Dusty Carr stood bewildered in the fluoroscan imaging room with the pediatric neurosurgeon, struggling to grasp the news about his 8-year-old daughter, Taylor.
"I was wrong," the brain surgeon said.
Two months earlier, Dusty's wife, Mary Jo Carr, had been driving Taylor home from school. She was a minute away from pulling into their driveway at the end of a rural, gravel road.
The vehicles on the road kicked up clouds of dust around them. She was following a neighbor's truck and an oncoming car had pulled over to allow the truck to pass. Neither Mary Jo nor the other driver saw each other through the dust and collided head-on.
She didn't feel her own broken bones when she pulled Taylor from their Nissan Altima. Her daughter didn't have a mark on her, but her eyes had rolled back in her head and her body was turning blue.
"I saw she was starting to die," Mary Jo said.
She put her daughter in the neighbor's truck and headed toward the EMTs who would put Taylor on the helicopter that life-flighted her from Mexico, Mo. to Columbia Medical Center.
Taylor had two fractured vertebrae in her upper spine. Her brain was bleeding in nine places. Her liver was lacerated. She had no feeling or movement from her neck down.
The doctors put Taylor on a ventilator to breathe and induced her into a coma for 15 days.
They tried to prepare her parents.
"Did you know what Christopher Reeve was like?" they asked.
Mary Jo refused to accept this fate for her daughter. She refused to meet with other parents of children with severe brain and spinal cord injuries. She Googled for hours, looking for a success story from a child with injuries like her daughter's who walked out of a hospital.
She found none.
"Taylor will be the exception to the rule," she told the nurses and doctors.
Her bright and active second-grader was not going to get cheated out of the life she had.
All they could do was wait for the swelling in her brain to go down and face the long odds of recovery.
Taylor woke up with a halo: a metal ring around her head, attached with metal pins, to hold her neck and head in place. She also had a tracheostomy to help her breathe.
She opened her eyes and smiled at her parents.
That was a hopeful sign.
Her parents didn't tell her the extent of her injuries. She started to regain feeling on one side. Eventually, she picked up her left arm with her right, let it go and watched it drop on the bed.
Taylor looked at her parents: What was going on?
She was going to get better, they told her. She was going to work hard to get better. After a month in the hospital, she transferred to Ranken Jordan, a pediatric rehab facility.
Her physiatrist, Dr. Eugene Evra, greeted Taylor in Russian in the mornings when he checked on her. She decided she wanted to learn his native language, so he taught her a new word every day. He wrote it down, stuck it next to her bed and repeated the word with her.
Preevyet! (Hi!), Taylor would say.
Kak dela? (How are you?), Dr. Evra asked.
He was hopeful about her recovery from the moment she arrived at Ranken Jordan. Her motivation to get better was so strong. Her family never left her side.
She started her three hours of therapy each day with gut-wrenching and often explicit Eminem lyrics. She knows the entire new album. Before tackling the pain of learning to move again, she plays the Eminem song that pushes her: "Not Afraid."
Since the accident, Taylor has cried once. It was when she asked about Halloween, and her parents told her she had missed it.
Mary Jo is haunted by what-ifs. But then she watched her daughter take her first steps with a walker. These were tears of joy, of unrelenting faith.
The Carrs wanted nothing more than to bring their girl home for Christmas. Before there was a chance of that, Taylor faced another major surgery: She would have to get the stretched ligaments in her spinal column fused and a metal plate inserted in her neck. They had been told by Dr. Jeff Leonard, associate professor in pediatric neurology and neurocritical care at St. Louis Children's Hospital, that the surgery was in her best long-term interest.
So Dusty was trying to understand Dr. Leonard's change of heart when he saw Taylor's latest scans, right before the surgery was to be scheduled.
"She's made a remarkable recovery," Dr. Leonard said. "She just keeps beating all these odds." Instead of prepping her for a spinal cord fusion, doctors removed her halo and trach. She spent 24 hours back at Ranken to see how she fared.
She was ready to go home.
The first night home, she slept with her parents, her little brother and their dog together on the sectional in the family room.
"Being home and having our Christmas tree up ... There's snow outside. It's an overwhelming feeling," Dusty said.
"I call that a miracle."