She walks slowly, but Angelica Haakenson is walking.
Twelve-year-old Angelica of Anchor Point lost both her legs in a car accident on Christmas Day of 2014. After months of convalescence in Seattle Children’s Hospital and the Children’s Hospital at Providence in Anchorage and physical therapy, she is slowly transitioning out of a wheelchair onto prosthetic legs.
She’s wasted no time getting involved, too. She is the manager of the soccer team, a member of the swimming team, a representative on the student council at Chapman School as well as an active all-terrain vehicle rider. Her family even went fishing once this past summer, according to her mother, Mathany Satterwhite.
Plus, there’s been an addition to the family since the accident: Brayleigh, Angelica’s sister, was born in July.
“We wanted to make sure that we were ready and that kids were prepared,” said Conrad Woodhead, the principal of Chapman School. “My whole goal throughout this whole thing was to make her comfortable and make her not feel like she was being singled out.”
Breaking the news to the other kids at Chapman — a school of about 112, ranging from kindergarten to eighth grade — took some planning. The goal was to acquaint the other students with Haakenson’s recovery so they would not be shocked when she returned, Woodhead said.
The staff put together a slideshow of photos of Haakenson’s recovery and showed it to the other students while she was in the hospital, trying their best to answer questions so Angelica would not be uncomfortable when she returned, he said.
She hasn’t even had to repeat sixth grade. During her time in the hospital, Woodhead visited and brought with him a milk crate full of homework and get-well presents and cards from teachers and other students, he said.
“It was a big deal to watch everybody rally around her cause,” Woodhead said. “We did our best to make sure that she had work, to keep her caught up.”
Angelica did her homework in the hospital, taking advantage of the school that Seattle Children’s Hospital has for young patients. In March, she surprised her classmates and toured the school.
“She came and surprised everybody that one day and then she was back in school the next day,” Satterwhite said. “And then she finished sixth grade, which was pretty awesome that Chapman was able to (do that).”
Of course, explaining her accident to young children can be difficult, and some of them still ask questions, Angelica said. But it doesn’t bother her too much, she said.
“All the littler ones know what happened,” she said.
The school has made some logistical rearrangements to make things easier for her, too. The band room, located in a portable building behind the school, was hard to access with a ramp, so the school moved it into another portable nearby where it would be easier to install a ramp.
The last thing to add is a ramp from the hallway door to the playground so Angelica can access it with her classmates. The borough and school district have collaborated with the school to put the project in place, Woodhead said.
The staff and students have been taking an active role in helping Angelica transition back to walking, Woodhead said. She still uses the wheelchair when going outside to the portable buildings or playground.
“It’s been positive to see her walking,” Woodhead said. “Our plan at the school was to support her walking as much as she can, which has been awesome.”
Satterwhite said the teachers and students have been incredibly accepting and accommodating, including helping Angelica when she needs it.
“All her friends are like, ‘Let me help you, let me help you,’” Satterwhite said. “And we say, ‘She can do it.’”
Woodhead said one of the most encouraging things is to see her carry on with her life. During the summer, when the fair was in Ninilchik, he said he saw her participate in the rides and fair activities, both with the help of her friends and under her own steam.
“Just to watch her be able to do the rides and to see her hanging out with her friends, it was pretty special to see that firsthand,” Woodhead said. “It was everyday kid stuff. It was awesome.”
Elizabeth Earl is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.