For two local teens, returning to school last week was an achievement in itself. Both lost limbs in train accidents this summer.
On June 7, Sienna Ward, 12, was playing around near tracks in Southwest Philadelphia when she was struck by a slow-moving rail car and dragged about 500 feet. Sienna spent weeks at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia battling infection, and she wound up losing both legs.
Just six weeks later, Mustafa Elmitwalli, 14, was struck by a train in Frankford. Mustafa had been hanging around tracks with his cousin when he was hit. Somehow, he managed to hop on one leg to safety, and a passerby hastily tied a tourniquet that helped stem his blood loss. Doctors at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children were unable to reattach his leg.
I'm happy to report that Sienna was able to return to school on Thursday to start the seventh grade. Her mom drove her to classes at Richard Allen Preparatory Charter School on her first day. Sienna had been released from classes after an early dismissal on the day of her accident.
Mustafa also was able to be present for his first day of ninth grade at the Wyncote Academy on Tuesday but didn't stay long. He has since been readmitted to the hospital for a procedure to close his leg wound. His mother says he's back in the intensive care unit at St. Christopher's.
Both youngsters are in wheelchairs, and both have months of healing and rehab ahead to learn to walk on prosthetics. It won't be easy, especially because kids their age can be really cruel, even to those who don't have significant physical challenges.
Even caring adults can unwittingly make mistakes, like the kind-hearted barber who didn't charge Mustafa after cutting his hair. Nobody wants to be pitied. Mustafa, no doubt, would rather have been treated just like any other customer instead of being singled out. He's feeling embarrassed and self-conscious.
"He's having a hard time with people looking at him and staring," Elizabeth Colon, Mustafa's mother, said in a text message. "He is still up and down emotionally. He is trying to learn to navigate through life with the one leg. We haven't been cleared for rehab yet."
I hope he'll be back in school in a couple of weeks.
Letting go hasn't been easy for Sienna's mother, Natasha, a SEPTA trolley operator who hasn't been back to work since her daughter's accident. During the awful days immediately afterward, she rarely left Sienna's side.
"I was just really nervous; I want to make sure ain't nobody bothering her and that she's getting around all right," Ward told me on Thursday after dropping Sienna off for her first day. "She was like, 'Bye!'"
"She wheeled herself away and into the room with the other kids, and I was like, 'OK,'" Ward said. "I'm just concerned more of how people are going to look at her and treat her."