Sienna Ward loved dance and studied ballet, hip-hop, and jazz.
In photos taken almost a year ago at a dance recital at the Keswick Theatre, she has her hair pushed back into a dancer's bun. She looks so elegant as she stands there, all 5 feet, 6 inches of her, in a graceful ballet pose and a beautiful, fairylike costume. In another, she has on a white fringed top and sequined shorts, and looks like she's ready to cut loose. The photos are memories of a happier time, far from what Sienna is going through now.
On June 7, the 11-year-old was struck by a train that severed one leg and badly damaged the other. Authorities say around 2 p.m. that day, Sienna and three friends were near 56th Street and Grays Avenue after an early dismissal from Richard Allen Preparatory Charter School. The friends reportedly saw a slow-moving CSX freight train passing by, and began tossing rocks at it and trying to touch it. Somehow, Sienna lost her footing and tried to grab onto a pole on the train, police said. But her legs got tangled beneath it as it continued westbound, dragging her about 500 feet.
She was taken to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in critical condition. There, she was able to wiggle her toes and lift her remaining leg, which gave her family hope. But she had been in and out of surgery as she battled a persistent infection. On Wednesday, doctors made the decision to remove Sienna's remaining leg just above the knee. Dear God in heaven.
"They had to do it to save her life," explained her aunt Tina Miller.
What a disturbing setback. Sienna had a decent day at the hospital Tuesday, even managing a smile for her aunt. The medical staff had gotten Sienna out of her hospital bed and wheeled her around in a special wheelchair. That gave family members who'd been keeping vigil in her room something to cling to.
And now this.
When I spoke with her aunt around 3 p.m. Wednesday, Sienna was still undergoing surgery.
I can't imagine what her mother and two siblings must be going through right now. When I spoke with her mother, Natasha Ward, on Tuesday evening, she was clearly tired, but hopeful.
"They're not talking prosthetics yet," Ward told me. "All her plans and things she wanted to do are on a back burner now."
Same thing with Ward herself. A widow, she sleeps on a couch every night in her daughter's hospital room. Ward hasn't been back to her job as a trolley car operator for SEPTA and there's no telling when she'll be able to work again. She's thinking about taking some extended time off from work under the Family and Medical Leave Act to care for her daughter, whom she had home-schooled until recently.
She was only starting to think about all of the adaptations they'll need in their rowhome: a wheelchair ramp, a wheelchair lift, a handicap-accessible bathroom, and who knows what else? To help with their considerable expenses, the family has established a GoFundMe page. They've raised over $15,000, but will need so much more than that. I hope that after reading about what this family is up against, people will be generous.
What happened to the Wards really could happen to anyone. One minute everything can be fine. But a split second later, your entire world can be turned upside down the way that theirs has been. Ward was home resting from a late night at work when her phone started ringing with calls from strangers informing her that her youngest child had been involved in a serious accident.
"She has a long journey ahead of her," said Paralympian April Holmes, a Cherry Hill native who after losing a leg in a 2001 train accident went on to win more medals for running 100- and 200- meter races than she can count, including three at the Paralympics.
She's been to visit Sienna at CHOP and plans to stay in touch with and hopefully encourage her.
"Dancing as an amputee is still possible," Holmes told me. "Anything that you want to do is still possible."