Sandra Alamillo is handwriting thank-you letters in the hallway of Cottage Rehabilitation Hospital.
“People have big hearts,” she told Noozhawk. “I don’t care how long it takes me. I’m going to try to send as many cards as I can.”
Alamillo’s daughter, Alyssa Nuño, is around the corner receiving physical therapy treatment at the Keck Center for Outpatient Services.
Alyssa, a 16-year-old Dos Pueblos High School junior, has been at the facility for several months, ever since she was injured in a freak “microburst” storm that struck Santa Barbara on Labor Day weekend.
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To build her strength back, the teenager grips the rail of a treadmill while simultaneously lifting both heels off the floor so she’s standing on her toes and the balls of her feet — under the supervision of her therapist.
Alyssa stands on a Biodex Balance System machine to help track and improve her balance.
For her next exercise, she is asked to walk in a straight line in a narrow hallway without veering from side to side and then turn around and stride in the opposite direction without stumbling.
Alyssa’s physical therapist, Jill Trato, carefully watches a handheld countdown timer.
Wearing a dark blue and gray beanie emblazoned with the Dos Pueblos school logo, Alyssa does a similar exercise with her arms crossing her upper body.
“Everything is going good,” she said about her injuries. “I’m ready to go to school. I’m getting my energy back. I’m not as tired. When I first came home, I would nap after therapy because I’d be so tired.”
Alyssa was at Santa Barbara’s West Beach with family members the afternoon of Sept. 3. Shortly after the group posed for a picture near Sea Landing, fierce 80 mph winds slammed the area without warning, tossing kayaks, umbrellas and other items on the beach.
People scattered to take cover. Alyssa fled with her boyfriend but they became separated.
“It was sprinkling when we took the picture,” her mother recalled. “We huddled, took the picture and went back to pack up the items.
“Then, it got crazy. It started hailing. All of a sudden we felt a big burst of air behind us and it got dark.”
Alamillo said that after the storm passed, Alyssa could not be found for about 15 minutes.
“We didn’t know where to look,” she said.
Alyssa’s family found her buried under a kayak and other debris.
“They pulled the last thing off of her, and she rolled over and was moving around — she had a gash on her forehead,” Alamillo said. “I got down next to her and put a towel on her head, and kept talking to her.”
Suffering numerous broken bones and bleeding from a head wound, Alyssa was rushed by American Medical Response ambulance to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, then flown to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
I will go anywhere, and I will fly anywhere to help her. The tests are going to help her learn how to live the rest of her life.
Sandra Alamillo, mother of Alyssa Nuño
She quickly underwent surgery to repair a broken wrist and fractured collarbone. Alyssa was confined to bed rest in the hospital for more than a month, her mother said, and fractures to her upper jaw bone made it painful to open her mouth, severely curtailing her eating ability.
In the hospital, Alyssa’s symptoms included sensitivity to light and sound.
“We had to talk low because it hurt her to the point that she would cry,” Alamillo said. “She had headaches. We had the curtains low. She had to wear sunglasses all the time.
“To see her suffering was hard.”
Alyssa also had a brain injury and underwent two major surgeries.
There may be more reconstructive surgery ahead. Next year, Alamillo said, Alyssa plans to have follow-up surgery to repair a damaged septum.
An examination by an ophthalmologist revealed that Alyssa has loss peripheral vision in her left eye.
“It’s limited,” Alamillo said of her daughter’s vision.
Alyssa plans to see a Los Angeles-based ophthalmologist in the coming weeks and receive more vision tests, treatment options and vision therapy.
“I will go anywhere, and I will fly anywhere to help her,” Alamillo said. “The tests are going to help her learn how to live the rest of her life.
“We are not sure what’s going to happen with her vision. Her body is still healing.”
Alyssa is home now and continuing her recovery after nearly two months in the Los Angeles hospital.
“God heard our prayers,” Alamillo said.
Alyssa receives occupational therapy in addition to physical therapy.
She graduated from speech therapy at Cottage Rehabilitation Hospital.
Alyssa, a student in the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy and a member of the lacrosse team, was receiving home tutoring and hopes to return to campus in January.
She looks forward to graduating with the Class of 2019.