Inspiring Okeechobee: Savannah Callaway is not done yet

OKEECHOBEE — Summer Savannah Callaway has had more than 30 surgeries in the last three years following a collision in which her vehicle ended up underneath an 18-wheeler.

Hailey Callaway (left) never doubted for a minute her mom, Savannah Callaway would recover after her car accident in 2016. Special to the Lake Okeechobee News.

In 2016, Savannah worked as a floor nurse at Tradition Hospital and decided to take a drive to visit a friend in Georgia while she had a few days off. She was on an unfamiliar back road in Georgia when they say she ran a stop sign and her SUV ended up underneath the 18-wheeler in front of her. The semi dragged her 800 feet before the driver even realized she was there, and her SUV was demolished, she said. She was alone in the vehicle except for her little Maltese dog, Angel.

When they got her out of the vehicle, they were unable to get her stabilized on the scene, and they drove 23 miles to Augusta Regional Hospital which is a trauma facility, doing CPR the entire time. They immediately took her into surgery, and she was in and out of surgery several times. She went into cardiac arrest on the table, but they were able to bring her back.

This is the SUV Savannah Callaway was driving when she hit the back of the 18-wheeler and survived. Special to the Lake Okeechobee News.

She had a subarachnoid hemorrhage on her brain and tore the main artery of her heart — the inferior vena cava — and normally when that is torn, there is less than a 1% chance of survival, but there just happened to be a surgeon there who was probably the only doctor in the world who could have operated on her and fixed it. He was there from another state because it was a training hospital, and he was teaching other surgeons. Even he had only done the surgery on pigs prior to her surgery. Savannah and her mom, Joy Slater, believe God placed him there at just the right time so he could save Savannah.

Savannah Callaway’s dog, Angel, survived the accident that almost killed Savannah. A Georgia state trooper went to the scene of the accident every day for two weeks and put out food hoping to find Angel, and he finally did. Special to the Lake Okeechobee News.

Both of Savannah’s lungs collapsed, and she had to be intubated because she was unable to breathe on her own. Normally everyone has 18 feet of intestines, but she only has 80 centimeters now so she has what is called small bowel syndrome and is unable to keep nutrients in and absorb them correctly. She had to have a port placed so she could be put on Total Parenteral Nutrition or T.P.N., and until about eight months ago, she received all her nutrition through that because otherwise, she would drop to about 95 pounds and could lose five pounds overnight. She has begun eating again, but has to watch herself very carefully and may have to go back on T.P.N. at some point, but for now, she is enjoying not carrying around the giant bag of liquid nutrition, she said.

She also lost her spleen, had hematomas on top of both her kidneys, and the accident tore her liver. She was intubated for over a month and lost part of her large intestine. She had a cerebral spinal fluid leak which she explained as brain fluid leaking and collecting in her lower back. Her lumbar spine was broken, and she had to have spinal fusion. She had several laminectomies, has chronic deformities of her thoracic spine and several herniated discs in her cervical spine. She has a metal plate in her wrist and contracture in her left wrist which will be operated on soon. She is happy about that because it will allow her more movement in her hand and fingers.

When she was in the hospital, she had to have an external fixator on her left leg to stretch the bone out. It’s a big metal piece, she said, that goes on the outside of the bone. She had that for several weeks before they went in to repair it. She still has chronic pain from that, she said.

She now has a very rare condition, caused by the accident, called Arachnoiditis. All the nerves became plastered against the vertebrae of the lumbar spine causing chronic excruciating pain, and it is incurable.

After the accident, she was unable to walk for eight months because her leg had to heal. In addition, she had shattered her left pelvis and has a 13-inch screw in it. She also had a fracture of her right scapula (shoulder bone) and could not bear any weight on that. She was in a wheelchair for eight months, and all of her muscles had atrophied, especially her leg muscles. They still are, she said.

She can’t exercise because if she does, she loses weight, and she has scarring of her lungs and gets short of breath so she isn’t able to do much physical activity. The accident also caused significant scoliosis, and that makes walking long distances difficult. She uses a scooter when she has to go very far, and she was just approved for an electric wheelchair.

When she woke up in the ICU, she was not able to read or use her phone due to the brain hemorrhage. It took several weeks before she was able to use her phone, and speech therapy to help with her speech.

When she woke up, her mom was happy to be able to tell her that her dog, Angel, was found by a state trooper. After the accident, this kind man went to the scene every day and put food out in the hope that Angel would come back, and finally two weeks later, she did. He called and said, “You’re not going to believe this, but we have the dog.” She had been eating bugs out there. The poor little thing was not used to being outside at all. She is a little six-pound Maltese and never went outside until that day.

When Savannah left the hospital after approximately two months, she was sent to Jacksonville for rehab but the Arachnoiditis made it so painful she begged her mom and her sister, Samantha Comfort, to take her home, and finally around Thanksgiving, they did. She attempted therapy in Port Saint Lucie, but again, the pain was too much. The only way she could do it was to stay so drugged up she couldn’t follow the instructions she was given and besides, she wanted to be alert enough to enjoy her daughter and her life as much as she possibly could, she said.

Savannah’s daughter, Hailey Callaway, said she was never too worried. She always knew her mom was going to be OK.

“She is a tremendous help to me,” said Savannah. She is home schooled and is able to spend a lot of time with her mom.

Savannah’s mom and sister took care of her for a long time after she came home. She said she doesn’t know what she would have done without them. She is also grateful for all the people who prayed for her and donated money to help while she was in the hospital.

“They started a Facebook page for me,” she said. “Total strangers walk up and tell me they were praying for me.” Her mom said she credits all that prayer with saving her daughter. “I could feel them praying when I was sitting at the hospital,” she said.

Savannah is finishing up her R.N. Bachelor’s Degree in September and is excited about that. She has been on disability for two years but in December went back to work full-time from home. Her former supervisor sought her out and offered her a position, and that was such a wonderful feeling, she said, to know they thought enough of her to do that. She still qualifies for disability, but she wanted to work. She wanted to earn her money. She wasn’t ready to be done with life, she said. She talks to patients who will be going through spinal surgeries. She works for the neurosurgeons in the Cleveland Clinic/Martin Health system. They have been very accommodating, she said. She does her work on the computer and on the phone, and it works out great.

“God doesn’t want me sitting there doing nothing. I have more potential than that. I can’t sit and do nothing, or I will wither away,” she said. “It’s hard, but if I can be an inspiration for one person, then I’ve done my job.”

Who inspires you? If you would like to submit someone, please email cwomble@newszap.com.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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