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A year ago, Alejandra “Alexx” Mendoza lay in a hospital bed broken and bruised.
She had been extracted with the Jaws of Life from a compact car that had violently collided with a sport utility vehicle on May 23, 2011. Two others were injured, but Mendoza was the most severely hurt.
Her kidneys and liver were lacerated, five of her ribs were broken, and her brain was swollen. Machines and tubes helped the now 18-year-old breathe, eat and live.
Doctors didn’t think she would survive. She proved them wrong.
In January, Mendoza was named the 2012 Miracle Child by the University Medical Center Foundation’s Children’s Miracle Network. She will be featured during the organization’s annual telethon today on KVIA.
“It made me happy,” Mendoza said about being selected to represent the nonprofit organization, which provides specialized medical care and equipment for critically ill or injured children. “But at the same time I was thinking that I’m not a child anymore – at least not in my mind.”
Officials of the organization said that’s part of the message: The Children’s Miracle Network helps more than just babies and young children.
Part of the national organization that raises money for 170 children’s hospitals across the country, the local group helps people up to age 18 who are being treated at University Medical Center or the El Paso Children’s Hospital. Last fiscal year, the foundation reported revenues of about $3.7 million, raising about $51,000 of that through its first Children’s Miracle Network local telethon last spring. This year’s goal is $75,000, officials said.
“Without them, I wouldn’t be here right now,” Mendoza said about the organization, which provided her with specialized medical equipment to help her recover.
Mendoza will graduate from Irvin High School on June 12. She plans to enroll at El Paso Community College this fall and eventually study forensic science in Albany, N.Y.
Although she wanted to study culinary
arts – or be a Monster Truck driver, as her older sister Susie Mendoza reminds her – the Miracle Child said her accident and recovery fueled her interest in the medical and forensic fields.
Mendoza has no memory of the accident.
“I gave up trying to remember,” she said. “I don’t want to remember. It feels like a joke.” Instead, her sister, a soccer and track coach at Eastwood Middle School, recounts the day that changed their lives.
The teenager was in the front passenger side of a Honda Civic with three friends when the driver failed to yield the right of way. The car was T-boned by an oncoming Ford Expedition.
“I expected to see Alexx talking to a cop on the curb,” said the older Medoza, 25. “The car was a piece of crushed metal. It looked like an accordion, the kind that you see in the cartoons.”
The teenager had been taken to the UMC emergency room.
“They told my mother that Alexx wasn’t going to make it,” Susie Mendoza said. ” ‘You should say goodbye to her now,’ they said.”
Hours later, the injured Mendoza was stabilized and taken to ICU for recovery.
“She was swollen and covered in iodine,” Susie Mendoza said. “It didn’t look like her.”
Alexx Mendoza had a number of surgeries, including trephination, in which a hole was drilled into her skull to alleviate the swelling. She had a section of her head shaved.
“Oh, oh. She’s going to be so mad,” Susie Mendoza recalls telling their mother, Monica, during a moment of comic relief.
All the family could do was pray that the injured Mendoza would open her eyes, and perhaps talk, after being in a coma for two weeks.
“I remember Mom saying, ‘Hey, look who’s here,’ ” the older Mendoza recalls. “I told her, ‘Hey, little sis.’ Then she opened her eyes and her mouth and started crying just like when she was little.”
It was a good sign.
Over the next few days, Alexx Mendoza tried to mouth a few words, but would mostly cry.
“One day I told her to stop crying. She looked at me and gave me a little attitude with her eyes,” the older Mendoza said, a little indignation in her voice. “But then I knew she would be OK. She was going to be herself.”
It was that attitude – which had gotten the feisty teenager in trouble in the past – that might have helped save her life. She was determined to get better.
Alexx Mendoza smiles when she describes herself as stubborn. Susie Mendoza, a former Marine, calls her little sister strong-willed.
Whatever the personality trait, the Miracle Child is thriving. She’s nearly made a full recovery, though she sometimes struggles to speak clearly. She still finds it difficult to walk down stairs, and can’t jump or dance as she used to.
Alexx Mendoza describes her recovery as being born again: “I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t write.”
Through it all, her family was by her side. Realizing that was a hard pill for the teenager to swallow.
“My mom and sister always used to tell me that not all my friends were going to be there for me all the time,” Alexx said. “And they were not there. My family was always there.”
Last year for Mother’s Day, the teenager was grounded and wasn’t allowed to attend the day’s celebration. She was most upset that her mom had taken away her cellphone.
“I was a problem child,” Alexx Mendoza said somberly. “I’ve changed.”
The teenager said she has a stronger relationship with her mother and the rest of her family, including her 8-year-old brother, Carlos.
This year, the family spent all of Mother’s Day watching movies on the Lifetime Movie Network.
“It was a cry fest,” Susie Mendoza said.
The teenager cried, then hugged her older sister.
“I know Alexx appreciates life a lot more,” Susie Mendoza said. “We all do as well. We see how quickly everything can be taken away from us.”
Cindy Ramirez may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 546-6151.
- What: Second annual El Paso Children’s Miracle Network Spring Telethon to benefit the University Medical Center Foundation, which in turn supports children up to age 18 at UMC or the El Paso Children’s Hospital through the El Paso Children’s Miracle Network.
- When: 3 to 10 p.m. today.
- Where: The telethon will air live from 3 to 7 p.m. on KVIA, with intermittent live shots from 7 to 10 p.m.
- To donate: 532-6262 during the telethon.
- Information: 521-7229 or umcfoundationelpaso.org