Up until now, the news about Gabriella Saavedra, the Centreville girl battling a rare illness in the hospital, has been pretty grim. But now, her family believes she's turned a corner and is finally on the road to recovery.
"FIFTEEN DAYS ago, the doctors said only a miracle could save her life," said her father, Edwin Saavedra of London Towne, by phone from the hospital, Wednesday afternoon. "I was in tears, and my wife [Fidelia] and I bowed our heads and prayed with the doctors."
"We said, 'God, please guide the doctors' hands and bless everybody,'" continued Saavedra. "And I think God heard us because she started to open her eyes and see us all."
Gaby, 8 1/2, a rising third-grader at London Towne Elementary, still has a long way to go — since she's battling a disease so uncommon that she's only the seventh known case ever. But her parents finally have hope that she'll pull through.
Her problems began July 14, when she started running a fever and having head and neck pains. Her condition deteriorated rapidly and she started having seizures. At Children's Hospital in Washington, D.C., doctors medically induced a coma, July 22, to prevent further seizures and avoid possible brain damage.
Meanwhile, her anxious parents have remained by her side in the hospital's Intensive Care Unit as much as possible, while good friend Carol Trujillo of Centreville cares for Gaby's younger sister, Annie, 7, in her home.
Baffled by Gaby's continual seizures and unable to pinpoint the exact cause of her illness, doctors recently sent a sample of her spinal fluid to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta to have it analyzed. As a result, they were able to determine that she has a rare disease.
"Edwin told me it doesn't have a name — it's a neurological thing," said Trujillo. "And the other six cases were all infants; this is the only case that wasn't."
AFTER THE CDC diagnosis, doctors brought Gaby out of her coma and placed her on new medication, Aug. 27. "At first, they thought she was responding very well," said Trujillo. "Her seizures almost stopped, but then they started again, a few days later."
However, doctors are letting Gaby stay awake. They removed her intubation tube last week and, instead, inserted a tracheotomy tube for breathing. This one only goes into her throat, not her lungs. And being more alert has enabled her to interact a bit with her family.
"Annie's been spending time with her at the hospital, and Gaby understands what Annie's saying and either squeezes her hand or nods," said Trujillo. "Fidelia said it's been good for Annie, as well as for Gaby — who seems more alert when her sister's there."
Then last Sunday, said Edwin, Gaby mouthed the words as he sang, "Jesus Loves Me" to her, and she's begun speaking softly. "I was glad to hear her again, because I was missing my daughter's voice," he said. "And yesterday she said, 'Mom ... home,' telling us she wants to go home."
"She even gave me a kiss — I couldn't believe it," said her father. "But she still can only make small movements because her muscles are so weak, so she'll need rehabilitation." He said doctors will operate on Gaby this Thursday to place a feeding tube into her stomach.
Edwin said she's also been receiving a special diet of vitamins and nutrients recommended by a family friend from Argentina, and it's proved beneficial, so doctors are continuing it. He said she's just had "a few" seizures in the past couple weeks, so he's hoping they'll eventually stop, altogether.
But most of all, he said, "I believe a miracle happened, because many people are praying for her and God heard our prayers. My wife was so happy, she was dancing, and we were hugging each other. It didn't matter what the doctors said [about her grave condition] — it mattered what God said. And she's back! My daughter is back! People will be able to visit her, and we will welcome them. And I thank everyone for their prayers and support."
Neighbor Yanis Reyes, who lives on the same court as the Saavedras in London Towne, is among those who've helped. She's known the family about four years and calls them "wonderful Christian people. They've put their daughter in the Lord's hands; all they want is for the community to pray for her."
Reyes said close friends of the Saavedras have been coming together at their home, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, for prayer sessions. "Last Friday was especially emotional," she said. "It was them, my daughter Judith, 11, and Annie."
"EVERYBODY SAID a prayer, and Annie asked the Lord to cure her sister because everybody misses her and loves her," continued Reyes. "She said she wants Gaby to come home and not be in the hospital anymore. And she said she wanted to see her parents happy because she didn't want to see her daddy cry anymore."
Because the Saavedras are originally from Bolivia, Reyes was able to raise some money toward their medical bills during a Bolivian festival held last Sunday, Sept. 4, at the Prince William County Fairgrounds. "I called Gonzalo Sandoval, president of the Pro-Bolivia Committee, an organization that helps Bolivian people," she said. "He and his committee organized and sponsored the festival, and he let me set up a donation table for Gaby there, for free."
Reyes, Judith, her friend Kaitlyn Seuntgens and Reyes' friend Jessica Fisher made posters and decorated a donations jar, and they and Trujillo manned the table. They also provided coloring books and crayons for children to color pictures and write get-well messages on them for Gaby.
Still, the medical bills loom large and, although Fidelia's still cleaning houses, Edwin hasn't yet been able to secure a new job while spending so much time at the hospital. And with Gaby's medical costs rising daily, her family is still greatly in need.
Community donations have yielded more than $10,000 for the bank fund established for Gaby's medical bills. Tax-deductible donations payable to Gabriella Saavedra may be sent to her c/o Chevy Chase Bank, 5613 Stone Road, Centreville, VA 20120.
In addition, Fitness Together, a Chantilly gym, is holding a fund-raising "Go the Mile for Gaby" weight-loss challenge. Call 571-323-2223. And a bake sale will be held Saturday, Sept. 17, from 9 a.m.-noon, in front of the Stone Road Giant Food store in Centreville.