Dancer who lost her legs in train accident back to her 'sassy' self

Sienna Ward, 11, at a dance recital on June 25, 2016 at the Keswick Theater

Sienna Ward was supposed to attend dance camp this summer.

Instead, she’s been learning to do simple things again, such as sitting up on her own without support. Last week, she practiced lying on a floor doing sit-ups and managed to do six in a row. Small victories but significant considering that a few weeks ago, doctors weren’t even sure the 11-year-old was going to make it.

Sienna had been playing with friends after an early dismissal from school June 7 when a slow-moving CSX freight train attracted their attention. The girls began tossing rocks at it and trying to touch it. Childhood antics quickly turned to tragedy when somehow Sienna lost her footing and reached to grab on to a pole on the train.  Her legs got tangled beneath the train as it continued westbound, dragging her about 500 feet.

One leg was lost immediately. In the ensuing weeks, Sienna was in and out of surgery multiple times as doctors battled to stave off a life-threatening infection and also save her remaining leg. In the end, they made a gut-wrenching decision to remove it as well.

Sienna Ward, 11, was an avid dancer before a tragic train accident on June 7.

I’m happy to report that more than a month after the accident, Sienna is much improved. She’s not scheduled for any more surgeries and has been moved out of the intensive care unit. Sienna is mostly off feeding tubes and eating on her own, asking for food from Taco Bell and Popeyes. Her left thigh, where she had a skin graft, is still painful but healing. She’s back to being “Sassy Cee Cee,” as her mother jokingly calls her.

She’s using Snapchat and Instagram to stay in touch with friends and staying up late nights watching the CW show  The Vampire Diaries. But the best news of all is that she’s due to be released from the hospital this week and moved into the Seashore House, CHOP’s 18-bed rehabilitation facility. The timing couldn’t be better – with her 12th birthday on Friday.

“She’s coming along nicely,” said her mother, Natasha Ward, who was shopping in South Philly for birthday gifts when I caught up with her on Thursday.

So what does she want? Sienna has asked for sneakers. She loves Nike Huaraches, customized Converse, and throwback Adidas. If she were my kid, I’d get her every single pair in the store.

Relatives intend to go all out for Sienna’s big day. They plan to set up a candy buffet in a hospital conference room and get balloons in Sienna’s favorite colors of teal and gold. They also are hoping that maybe players from either the Sixers or the Eagles (hint, hint) might decide to make a surprise visit and encourage Sienna to keep pushing and overcoming obstacles. Because as much progress as has been made, Sienna still has a long way to go. The goal is for her to be fitted with prosthetic devices so she can move around independently again.

Plans are underway to renovate the Ward family home to make it handicapped-accessible so it will be ready when Sienna finally comes home. They’ve been ripping up carpets and making plans to add a wheelchair lift and create a first-floor bathroom, among other adjustments. Trevor Mackins, Landmark Group, was so moved by Sienna’s situation that he offered to provide free labor for the rehab and also help locate a sponsor for the materials.

It’s been like that for the Wards. After we shared her story in June, donations from Inquirer and Daily News readers poured in. The family is grateful for the many donations readers have made to Sienna’s GoFundMe. People have been very generous. At last count, the crowd fund-raising account had nearly $30,000. An additional $1,000 arrived in the mail from a male reader who asked to remain anonymous.

Here is the address if you care to contribute: P.O. Box 22344, Philadelphia, PA 19110

“I cannot believe that so many people are coming and helping her,” said Tina Miller, Sienna’s aunt.

It’s been something to see. I’ve been awed by all the emails I’ve gotten from readers offering everything from money and prayers to even a spare wheelchair for Sienna.

It’s touching how in a city, where so many tragic things happen every single day, so many people still have space in their hearts to care about a little girl whose biggest goal is just to dance again.