After nearly losing her life in a porch swing accident, Lalia Susini is committed to helping other injured and sick children overcome the obstacles they face.
The 12-year-old Los Angeles girl had been pursuing a career in acting and fashion, but now has her mind set on becoming a doctor, the result of a harrowing accident that led to several brain surgeries.
“I thought I was going to die,” Susini, who most recently starred in ABC’s “Station 19,” told CNN. “I just had no idea what happened.”
More than a year ago, an eyebolt holding the swing’s bungee cord snapped out of the porch ceiling and shot through Lalia’s skull.
“It started as a cute, All-American moment, her grandfather was pushing her,” said her mother, Stacey Susini. “The next thing you know there’s blood everywhere and I thought I’m going to lose my daughter.”
Los Angeles Fire Department crews found Lalia had suffered a stroke, was unconscious and had lost movement on her left side.
Members of Station 97 helped her regain consciousness and rushed her to Cedars Sinai hospital.
Stacey Susini recalls her daughter underwent two blood transfusions before doctors could operate because Lalia bled so much.
“That projectile had traversed through her skull and into an area of the brain that is responsible for voluntary motor control,” said Dr. Moise Danielpour, a neurosurgeon in Cedars’ pediatric department.
“She was unable to move one side of her body with an open wound. Time was critical.”
Dr. Danielpour explained doctors and nurses fought to save Lalia’s life while preserving as much of Lalia’s damaged brain as possible.
“The life of this beautiful child was in our hands and there was no room for error,” said Danielpour.
Miraculously, Lalia survived the nearly five-hour operation.
Inspired to give back
More than a year later, Laila’s left arm is still paralyzed.
But she embraces extensive physical therapy, and is back acting, as well as doing other normal kids stuff – like riding bicycles, easing into soccer, running track and chasing after her three brothers in their Hollywood Hills home.
“I’m working my hardest to get back to all of that,” Lalia said. “Some would think this (her injuries) is so bad my life is ruined, but you have to be positive.”
The upbeat attitude propelled her to help fellow pediatric patients by creating a line of fashionable and comfortable clothes for kids who live with medical devices.
Laila had already been designing clothes before the accident with her best friend under the brand name LATE Clothing LA. But her accident inspired her to also focus on sick and injured children.
“We donate clothes to kids who have a cast on their arm, PICC lines, or feeding tubes going into their arms – anything where clothes need be modified,” said Lalia. The acronym PICC line stands for peripherally inserted central catheter and it’s used for administering intravenous fluids.
The seventh grade student said during her recovery she saw how she and other children would have benefited from any comfortable clothing that would have openings for those lines or casts.
One of those children was her friend Jack Boulas, who also survived a massive brain injury as well as a heart attack.
Six-year-old Jack suffers from rare, Catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia that causes an irregular heart rhythm.
“A lot of families, children, parents live in isolation at a pediatric hospital,” said Jack’s father, Matt Boulas.
“I appreciate Lalia for the kindness she has shown to Jack. He always talks about her, adores her.
“The first thing he says is ‘hide’ when he sees her, because he likes to play hide and seek with her.”
Lalia’s pediatric clothing line is just getting started, with a handful of items donated.
But clothes are just the beginning, Laila says. She also wants to follow in her doctor’s footsteps to the operating room, and someday become a pediatric neurosurgeon.
She’s a straight-A student, and is confident she can do it. But for now, Laila is taking one day at a time.
“It’s wonderful when you can have an impact on a young person’s life,” Danielpour said.