The blinking red light that hangs at the centre of the shadowy intersection of Torquay and Ash roads in Gordon Head has been there for years.
It blinks as a warning of the crosswalk there, but for the friends and family of Leila Bui, it blinks as a reminder of the devastating morning on Dec. 20 when the 11-year-old girl was hit crossing Ash Road. Leila still hasn’t come home, something her family is hoping could happen in as soon as four to six weeks, though it’s unknown if she’ll ever recover to a cognizant state from the neurological damage she suffered on that fateful Wednesday morning.
It was a little after 8 a.m. on Dec. 20, a school day, when Leila headed out the door just ahead of her big sister, 14-year-old Quyne, from their home at the intersection of Ash and Torquay. The two were scheduled to catch their usual morning ride to Arbutus middle school with the parent of a student who lives across the street. It was a sunny morning and the intersection was a mix of glaring sun and blackening shade as the low winter sun poked through the area’s heavy tree canopy and bounced sharply off sections of wet pavement.
Saanich Police are still investigating the incident and have released little details to date (it’s common for an investigation of this nature to take several months). What’s known is that the driver of a Mercedes SUV driving eastbound along Ash Road hit Leila as she crossed Ash. Her small frame was thrown several metres ahead and she landed unconscious on the road, nearly in the path of an oncoming sedan.
Leila’s mother, Kairry, believes in her heart that her rule-respecting Leila, a cautious kid, was using the crosswalk. Quyne was catching up and was still making her way out the front door when Leila was hit.
“I would be really mad if I knew it was partly her fault for being careless but she’s not, … she’s not that type of kid,” Kairry said.
A “fighter,” Leila was kept in an induced coma for weeks. She’s endured nine surgeries, mostly in those first few weeks, including a craniectomy, where a bone flap was removed to relieve pressure on the brain and create room for the swelling. She also had her spleen removed, though the surgeon had initially tried to fix the rupture. She was also transferred to B.C. Children’s Hospital in Vancouver to have her spine stabilized where it meets the base of the skull. A section of the spine was badly fractured, her mom said. All this while also having a pressure probe in her brain that monitored the pressure and would actually draw fluid out to allow for more room for swelling.
“The medical team slowly took her off the drugs to see if she’d wake up on her own, and she did,” Kairry said. “When she first opened her eyes, they were glazed and drugged eyes.”
There is still a lot of uncertainty around Leila’s state. She opens her eyes but only sometimes will she respond to neurological stimulation. Until she responds every time, the doctors remain pragmatic. She is entirely fed and medicated through a “gastro-tube,” or G-tube, and cared for 24-7, which involves shifting her position in bed every three to four hours.”
Sometimes she looks your way when she hears you talk, but often times she doesn’t.
“I wouldn’t say the doctors are overly optimistic, they don’t want to give us a false hope,” Kairry said.
It doesn’t matter, her family remains hopeful regardless. Leila’s mom and dad, her three siblings, Quyne, Myla, 9, and Jace, 6, and the rest of her family hold out hope that she will slowly recover. They’ve grown in a new direction, overcoming the trauma.
Kairry has been by her daughter’s side since the beginning. They’ve been able to stay at Jeneece Place most of the time, and whenever Jeneece Place was full, Kairry would stay and the dad would take the kids back and forth between home, to sleep, and the hospital. This week Leila is being transferred to the Sunny Hill Health Centre at B.C. Children’s Hospital for a planned four to six-week stay. Sunny Hill provides specialized rehabilitation services for children with physical, motor or sensory development issues or a brain injury.
“My husband and I are there with her, we watch her all the time, see little improvements and other things doctors don’t catch,” Kairry said. “A lot of it is a parent’s hope that your daughter comes back to you the way she used to be, or closer to the way she was. It’s difficult. Three doctors oversee her and they have their opinions. It’s a long road and not something that will happen any time soon.”
Looking ahead, the family has looked into the needed renovations so Leila can come home and continue her rehabilitation. They’ll add a ramp, or two, and upgrade the bathroom.
“We are so very appreciative for Jeneece Place, which allowed the kids to stay with us a quick step from Leila and for not splitting us up,” Kairry said. “The nurses give great care, and the social worker there is great, searching for funding to help us out with the new renos to help for Leila.”
Help Fill a Dream also helped out, donating funds to help the Buis with their stay in Vancouver and towards renos so the family can afford to bring Leila home.
In the meantime Saanich Engineering is carrying out a series of improvements to upgrade the Torquay and Ash intersection this month.
– This story has been updated to amend that the blinking light at Ash and Torquay is not new, as erroneously reported in the Saanich News print edition on April 18.