Roundup girl finds freedom with all terrain wheelchair

Posted at 7:20 AM, Sep 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-21 13:45:09-04

ROUNDUP - On the rugged roads of Montana, just outside of Roundup, there’s an 8-year-old girl with quite a sense of humor.

“You see this beautiful place? We have turkeys and their babies. Hopefully my cat doesn’t eat them,” Amyah Rodriguez said, while touring her grandparent’s property.

With her spunky personality, you likely wouldn’t be able to guess she’s a survivor of devastation and heartache.

When she was 6 years old, Rodriguez suffered severe injuries in a car crash that also took her 5-year-old brother’s life.

“She had major injuries and was very close to dying. She ruptured her spleen, completely avulsed her spleen. She shattered both of her kidneys. She injured her pancreas. She injured her intestine. She had a broken arm. And then she had a T-12 spinal cord injury, with a fracture of her spine and injury to her spinal cord,” said Dr. Katie Russell, assistant professor of pediatric surgery at the University of Utah.

Rodriguez underwent 40 surgeries and procedures including a 12-hour surgery to reconstruct her abdomen.

“Two years ago, there were days when we thought we were going to go home alone. Dr. Russell and the team saved her life several times,” said Michelle Slimick, Rodriguez’s grandmother and guardian.

“She has come so far, she inspires me. She’s my hero, there’s nothing that she won’t try or do, and she’s got such a fierce determination to be independent. She’s just amazing, she’s unstoppable,” Slimick said.

Thanks to her all-terrain wheelchair, she’s unstoppable mentally and physically.

“Even when she was in the ICU, unconscious, with a breathing tube, you could tell that she was just such a fighter. And I was immediately drawn to her, and also her family,” Dr. Russell said.

Dr. Russell knew Rodriguez needed something more than the average wheelchair, so that’s when she suggested her family contact the St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation.

“Our immediate thought goes to how can we help. Because so often, you hear these stories and you realize, the treatment they’re going to get at the hospital maybe doesn’t cover the entire healing process that needs to go on, so how can we get involved and help and so often, that’s what we do here, we try to look at the whole patient, and we figure out how to address their needs,” said Tyler Wiltgen, the executive director of the St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation.

For Rodriguez, that need is to explore the world.

She had some advice to offer.

“Keep on going. Every time you do something impressive or amazing, keep on doing it and you’ll get strong like me,” Rodriguez said.

“Amyah can’t feel her legs, she can’t move her legs, but I’ve seen her on a rope swing, I’ve seen her on a horse, I’ve seen her going down a slide at a water park, I see her swimming across a pool. I see her hiking all over the backcountry in this cool wheelchair she has, going to rivers, going across the grass, and I think that’s what I really want for her. This is a Montana girl, and I want her to do whatever she wants, and she does beyond what I can even imagine. And she’s an amazing small human,” Dr. Russell said.

Rodriguez was able to have her follow-up visits in Billings thanks to an existing partnership between St. Vincent Healthcare and Intermountain Healthcare, which just announced plans to merge.

Nine pediatric surgeons share their time between the two hospitals, so patients in Billings don’t need to travel to Utah for follow-up appointments.

To learn more about the St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation, click here.