HEALING TOGETHER: Mekala and Russell

“I didn’t have to worry about food, lodging, transportation. Mekala, Russell and I could just focus on healing.”

Sonya Patterson

The paramedics who arrived on the scene of the Midland, Georgia, school bus accident on August 22, 2016, can attest to their bond.

“Help my sister! Help my sister first!” screamed 5-year-old Russell who was pinned under his sister because she’d thrown herself on top to protect him. As a result, just 9 herself at the time, Mekala had absorbed the brunt of the impact, which crushed her lower back and broke her left heel and multiple bones in her right leg.

“Even after they got him out from under her, he wouldn’t leave her side. Just refused,” remembers the duo’s mom, Sonya.

Despite his own broken leg, Russell wouldn’t budge until rescuers removed Mekala from the rubble. Eventually, she was transferred to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for her extensive injuries, where she endured nine surgeries within eight weeks of the accident.

The healing was long and painful, says Sonya. But the early weeks were worse before Russell came to stay with his mom and hero sister.

“He doesn’t do well without her,” says Sonya. “He was going through his own trauma. To this day, he can tell you step-by-step what happened. Mekala is like his lifeline.”

In truth, Mekala needed her brother, too, which is why the Atlanta Ronald McDonald House remains so special to Sonya, who explains that her children needed to be together to completely heal. 

“He kept her mind off it. He kept her busy, wanting her to go play,” she says.

After six weeks of treatment, Mekala was where doctors had anticipated she’d be after six months. Maybe it was her youth, good genes or an excellent medical team, but in addition to all of that and God’s hand, Sonya believes that her family’s ability to be together was a major component in her daughter’s progress.

The House’s kitchen, playroom and laundry room all helped the family adjust for the monthlong stay while Mekala continued her treatment. Other families going through their own hardships provided much needed comfort, says Sonya.

“It’s nice to be able to share and talk with other people, to know they understand the stress,” says Sonya, who said they’ve kept in touch with a few families they met during their stay.

It’s the small things—meals, friends, smiles from volunteers and staff, activities for the kids—that added up to an experience that was a bright spot in a dark time, she says, adding that the kids both ask to go back to the House just to hang out.