The 12-year-old Los Angeles girl had pursued a career in acting and fashion, but now has thoughts of becoming a doctor, the result of a shocking accident that led to several brain surgeries.
“I thought I was going to die,” Susini, who most recently starred in ABC’s “Station 19,” told CNN. “I just had no idea what was happening.”
More than a year ago, an eyebolt holding on to the swing’s elastic cord jumped out of the porch ceiling and shot through Lalia’s skull.
“It started as a sweet, All-American moment her grandfather pushed her,” said her mother, Stacey Susini. “The next thing you know, there’s blood everywhere, and I thought I’d lose my daughter.
The Los Angeles Fire Department found that Lalia had suffered a stroke, was unconscious and had lost movement on her left side.
Members of Station 97 helped her regain consciousness and rushed her to Cedars Sinai Hospital.
Stacey Susini remembers that her daughter underwent two blood transfusions before the doctors could operate because Lalia was bleeding so much.
“This projectile had passed through her skull and into an area of the brain responsible for voluntary motor control,” said Dr. Moise Danielpour, a neurosurgeon in Cedars’ pediatric ward.
“She was unable to move one side of her body with an open wound. Time was critical.”
Dr. Danielpour explained that doctors and nurses fought to save Lalia’s life while preserving as much of Lalia’s damaged brain as possible.
“This beautiful child’s life was in our hands and there was no room for error,” Danielpour said.
Miraculously, Lalia survived the nearly five-hour operation.
Inspired to give back
More than a year later, Laila’s left arm is still paralyzed.
But she embraces extensive physiotherapy and plays again and does other normal children’s things – like cycling, lightening football, running and chasing her three brothers in their home in the Hollywood Hills.
“I’m working my hardest to get back to all that,” Lalia said. “Some will think this (her injuries) is so bad that my life is ruined, but you have to be positive.”
The optimistic attitude led her to help other pediatric patients by creating a range of fashionable and comfortable clothing for children living with medical equipment.
“We donate clothes to children who have a cast on their arm, PICC lines or feeding tubes that go into their arms – all where the clothes need to be modified,” Lalia said. The acronym PICC line stands for peripherally inserted central catheter and is used to administer intravenous fluids.
The seventh-grade student said during her recovery that she saw how she and other children would have benefited from any comfortable clothing that would have openings for those lines or plaster.
One of these children was her friend Jack Boulas, who also survived a massive brain injury as well as a heart attack.
Six-year-old Jack suffers from rare, catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia, which causes an irregular heartbeat.
“Many families, children, parents live in isolation in a pediatric hospital,” said Jack’s father, Matt Boulas.
“I appreciate Lalia for the kindness she has shown to Jack. He always talks about her, adores her.
“The first thing he says is ‘hide’ when he sees her, because he likes to play hide-and-seek with her.”
Lalia’s pediatric clothing line has just begun, with a handful of items donated.
But clothes are only the beginning, says Laila. She will also follow in her doctor’s footsteps to the operating room and one day become a pediatric neurosurgeon.
She is a straight-A student and is sure she can do it. But so far, Laila takes one day at a time.
“It’s wonderful when you can have an impact on a young person’s life,” Danielpour said.
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