In 2004, at age 2, Sammy was caught in a house fire at his family’s home in Brigantine, NJ. He sustained burns to more than 50 percent of his body and was flown by helicopter to a nearby hospital.
“He was very close to death,” recalls his father, Daryl. “We almost lost him.”
As a result of his extensive burns, Sammy had to have both legs amputated below the knee, lost his right ear, the hair on the back of his head had been burned away, he needed skin grafts and suffered severe edema (accumulation of fluid beneath the skin).
Transferred to CHOP for rehabilitation
After three months, he was transferred to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a world leader in pediatric rehabilitation.
He was admitted to CHOP’s 18-bed Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit, part of the Center for Rehabilitation. Here, he was followed by a multidisciplinary team comprised of occupational therapy (OT), physical therapy (PT), speech-language pathology, psychology, music therapy and child life.
His wound care was extensive, but OT and PT met with him daily. As his condition improved, they taught him everything from how to dress himself, write, put on and take off his prosthetic legs, and open containers to how to tie his shoes, climb stairs and jump rope.
He spent a total of four months at CHOP's inpatient rehab and six months in the Day Hospital, where he continued intensive therapy before transitioning to outpatient care. He has had numerous surgical procedures at CHOP since, including revision of both residual limbs, scar revisions (z-plasty) and tissue expansion to provide hair to the back of his head.
Sharing his experience
Now 11 years old and in the sixth grade, Sammy has come a long way. He and his father have consistently given back to the Hospital and helped out in any way needed.
Sammy has spoken at CHOP’s nursing trauma conference six times over the past two years. He goes through a PowerPoint presentation of the rehab he’s undergone over the past eight years and has demonstrated things like jumping rope with prosthetic legs. He brings an authentic and honest patient perspective to the conference.
When a recent switch to new prosthetics caused a setback in his rehab, he added more slides to his presentation on the “pros and cons” of his new legs vs. his old legs. Sammy has not only served as the Pennsylvania Ambassador for the Children’s Miracle Network, since age 6, he has volunteered to speak one-on-one with patients struggling with new lower extremity amputations, sharing advice and helping motivate them.
“I do it to inspire,” he says. “Maybe they’re having a tough time and they’re kind of confused with therapy. There are moments where it’s frustrating. Learning to walk with new prosthetics, that’s really frustrating.”
His advice to those kids: “Try your best, and put your spirit into it.”
“He is an amazing kid,” says Tami Konieczny, MS, OTR/L, CBIST, occupational therapist and Rehab team leader. “He and I have been working together since he came to CHOP. It’s amazing how far he has come.
"He inspires not only other patients but also staff with his constant positive attitude and motivation to be like other kids.”