It was an ordinary August afternoon for Anna Sarol. Before starting her gymnastics warm-ups, 15-year-old Anna texted her mom, nurse practitioner Eloisa Sarol, to find out who was picking her up after practice. Anna had loved gymnastics since she was five and was a promising athlete, having won several Kansas state awards.
As she warmed up on the uneven bars, she felt strong and alive. She gracefully moved from the low bar to the high bar to do some swings.
Suddenly, she lost her grip and landed hard on her back, half on the mat and half on the floor.
“This can’t happen. This can’t happen to me,” she told herself. “I need to get up and back on the bars.”
But she couldn’t feel her legs.
“Anna fell,” a woman said, when Eloisa Sarol answered her cell phone.
“Don’t move her,” she said. “I’ll be right there.”
As she left work and drove to the school, Eloisa wasn’t worried. She was used to an athlete’s minor injuries.
But she was surprised when she saw an ambulance. Anna was already inside, so Eloisa followed them to Overland Park Regional Medical Center. Anna was whisked away for an MRI and Eloisa paced the waiting room as her husband Ivan and other family members arrived. When the doctors said they needed to life flight Anna to Children’s Mercy Hospital for a CT scan and additional tests, Eloisa clenched her hands and tried to tamp down her anxiety. All the way to the hospital, she cried and prayed.
“I was so upset and so aware of how fragile life is,” she said.
The CT scan showed a fractured T-10 in the spine, which caused Anna to be paralyzed from the waist down. Still, Eloisa thought Anna might regain her ability to walk through rehab, which immediately began at the hospital. Ivan, also a nurse, stayed at Children’s Mercy day and night. Eloisa went to work and rushed right to the hospital at the end of her shift. As they helped their daughter, they researched the best rehab centers for children and discovered the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago
For weeks, Eloisa’s days had been crammed with work and worry. Her nights had been sleepless, spent at the hospital, near her daughter. During the initial week in Chicago, Eloisa momentarily crumpled under the enormous stress and sense of loss. When she blotted her eyes with a tissue, Anna said, “Come on, Mama. I’m OK. I’m alive.”
“Anna always smiled,” Eloisa said. “Her positive attitude was contagious.”
Meanwhile, the medical bills and other expenses were piling up. Eloisa had to return home to work. Ivan stayed on with Anna.
Setting Next Steps
During that fall, this was posted on the Pray For Annaboo Facebook page: “Every day there can always be a new challenge. The ONLY thing you can control about it... is how you choose to react to it. Nothing can stop you from being who you want to be and doing what you want to do.”
Anna returned home before Thanksgiving. But she couldn’t return to her former bedroom because it was on the second floor of their modest Olathe home. Because Anna was now in a wheelchair, the family and friends converted their garage into Anna’s room. Thanks to the parents of another teen who was paralyzed, Eloisa learned about an important piece of medical equipment, the FES (Functional Electrical Stimulation) Bike. This bike would help Anna with her lower extremities and decrease chances of muscular atrophy and muscle spasms. Anna needed this $25,000.00 bike.
But the insurance company informed Eloisa, “This is not covered.” Undeterred, Eloisa repeatedly phoned, advocating for her daughter. She reached out to a medical equipment company and a compassionate employee helped her navigate the system. But the system was like molasses. There was no sign Anna would get that necessary bike in the near future and Eloisa was knotted up with worry.
Giving Back Pays
Olathe Northwest High School students had been involved in wrapping presents for an ill child’s fantasy visit to Santa’s Workshop and the North Pole. A secret gift from the Elves of Christmas Present. Anna volunteered to help help her friends with dismantling the set and cleaning up all the wrapped empty boxes. When she asked her mom, “Do you want to help?” Eloisa replied, “I have to work.”
Little did she know the Chief Elf had secretly worked through Eloisa’s boss to get her off work for event.
Anna was excited about helping. Hundreds of wrapped gift boxes crowded the floor of the hangar that just minutes ago had enchanted another child. Anna joined the assembly line of kids, passing down box after box after box. Then she noticed a much bigger box, emerging from the pile. This box had writing on it— ANNA SAROL in large bold letters. She was confused and wondered what it meant. Then someone said, “Open it!” Anna tore off the paper. The moment she opened the box, she saw the FES Bike, a gift from the Elves. Anna was joyous and Eloisa knelt on the ground and wept with gratitude.
That bike changed Anna’s life. Riding it strengthened her legs and her spirits.
“Having this gift means there are so many good people,” Eloisa said. “The bike gave my daughter strength and lifted her up. And it lifted up our family as well. I take every moment as a gratitude.”
Update: Anna’s New-Found Passion
In January, Anna wrote on her Facebook page: “I will be starting a charity called Grades for Meds. This charity focuses on encouraging kids to work hard at school while raising money for the Filipino Medical Society Medical Mission. You have shown me that I have all the support, prayers and love I'll ever need. Directing my efforts to help others in need has become a new-found passion.”
Her family and friends have all embraced this passion. This project has already raised $5000.00. And it’s just the beginning of Anna’s outreach. In October, she spearheaded a coat drive for City Union Mission that resulted in more than 500 coats and other items for homeless Kansas Citians. She’s also serving as an assistant manager for her beloved gymnastics team. Anna believes every day is a blessing. Her optimistic attitude and her passion for helping are a source of inspiration for so many.