A mother is warning others after an improperly fastened seatbelt left her 6-year-old daughter with health problems that she will endure for the rest of her life.
Shelly Martin received a call on Sept. 17, 2016, that changed her life. Her then-6-year-old daughter, Samantha Swartwout, had been involved in a serious car crash with her father.
As reported by WWBT, the pair were on their way home from a fair in Goochland County, Virginia, when Samantha’s father lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a tree. Samantha was not sitting in her booster seat; her seatbelt was fastened across her stomach, but the shoulder strap was behind her back.
The impact of the crash caused the lap belt to slice open her abdomen.
The first person to reach Samantha and her father at the scene of the accident was 17-year-old Laura Kenny. Laura pulled Samantha from the car. She recounted that the little girl was “leaned over, unconscious when I found her, and she was starting to wake up … she never cried once.”
Samantha was rushed to VCU’s Children’s Hospital of Richmond, and a sheriff’s deputy phoned Shelly to deliver the devastating news. “It’s a phone call you do not want,” Shelly recalled. “It’s awful, I mean it’s torture.”
In addition to her severe abdominal injury, Samantha had a concussion and needed stitches on her forehead.
VCU’s lead pediatric surgeon, Dr. Charles Bagwell, described Samantha’s abdominal injury to WWBT. “[Y]ou could see the stripe of the seat belt in an enormous bruise across her abdomen, as well as the fact that the edge, the far edge of the belt, had actually cut through her abdominal wall and she had protruding intestines from that,” he said.
“She was just about cut in two,” Bagwell continued. “Much of which, quite frankly, couldn’t be repaired. The injury was too severe.”
Speaking to CBS News, Shelly explained that had her daughter been sitting in her booster seat, her injuries would likely have been far less severe.
According to Safe Kids, an adult seatbelt rarely fits correctly until a child is between the ages of 8 and 12, depending on their size. The lap belt must fit snugly across the child’s hips or upper thighs, and the shoulder belt must fit across the shoulder and chest, not the face or neck.
After her accident, Samantha underwent a series of operations to help repair the damage to her abdomen. Shelly slept by her side every single night.
However, Samantha’s recovery entailed more than simply addressing her physical injuries. “She is seeing a psychology doctor for possible PTSD,” Shelly explained to CBS News, weeks after her daughter’s accident.
On Oct. 6, 2019, Samantha was allowed to go home with her mother, wearing a binder to keep her abdomen intact during the healing process.
“She has so many limitations,” Shelly told Today. “She’ll try to build a fort with her blankets, but she can’t because she can’t bend over. She will cry, ‘How can other kids do this?’ and, ‘When will I be normal?’”
A family friend organized a GoFundMe page to help with Samantha’s ongoing medical costs. To date, the fund has amassed over $6,000 of a $20,000 goal, and Shelly is desperately hoping that the support will continue.
Speaking to The Epoch Times in April, Shelly reflected, “We were so thankful that so many donated to our GoFundMe account. My daughter will have intestinal problems, emotional problems, etc., for the rest of her life.”
Samantha, now 10 years old, has not been able to attend public school and cannot socialize as freely as her peers. In addition, Samantha’s father passed away in July 2019, so the little girl and her mother are going it alone.
“After all the ‘attention’ of an accident is over, the world will forget your struggles,” Shelly said. “Then it’s up to just the parent and the child … day after month after year.”
Shelly described her own and Samantha’s ongoing struggle as “a constant ebb and flow of being thankful and needing a break.” Yet, if sharing their story could save another child’s life or another parent’s sanity, Shelly reflected, then she will continue to do so.