Eleven years after Danielle Loftus, then 14, sustained a traumatic brain injury in a jet ski collision on Lake Springfield, signs of neurological activity give her parents hope to carry on.
“She’s still in there,” Jeff Loftus said during a recent interview with The State Journal-Register.
The Loftus family plans to gather for Thanksgiving dinner Thursday with Danielle, their two other young-adult daughters and other loved ones.
Jeff Loftus, 58, a Springfield native, and Lynell, 53, from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, said they remain thankful to God for Danielle’s health at age 25, as well as their own health, a spacious home in Springfield, stable at-home jobs and supportive friends and relatives.
Jeff and Lynell are faithful Roman Catholics, members of Blessed Sacrament Church and self-employed publishers of the monthly “Heartland Homes” real estate magazine and other materials.
With their younger daughters out of the house and at college and working full-time, respectively, the Loftuses are dedicated to keeping a regular schedule that helps Danielle remain healthy and, they believe, content.
They said they are willing to wait for progress in medical science, or a miracle, to cure their daughter, who isn’t able to move on her own or talk. They don’t plan to ever put Danielle in a nursing home. They take care of her.
Jeff Loftus said he and his wife have spent “lots” on alternative medicine treatments generally not covered by insurance that have done little to change Danielle’s semi-conscious state.
They said they have no regrets for giving Danielle everything from nutritional supplements and neuro-feedback sessions to laser therapy.
They traveled with Danielle to Florida two years ago so she could receive a month’s worth of twice-a-day hyperbaric oxygen therapy not available in Illinois.
“You don’t know if it works,” Lynell Loftus said. “It hasn’t hurt her. We’re going to leave no stone unturned.”
The only thing the Loftuses haven’t tried is stem-cell therapy, for which they probably would have to leave the country. They worry the risk to Danielle’s health would be too great.
The family isn’t asking for money or pity — just prayers — which they have encouraged since the “Pray for Danielle Loftus” billboards first went up around Springfield after the accident.
The couple admits to feeling sad and weary at times.
“We haven’t been able to fix Danielle yet,” Jeff Loftus said.
Lynell said she believes God has a purpose for Danielle’s situation. “I’m just frustrated at the timing,” she said.
Both parents became emotional at times in discussing Danielle’s prospects for the future. She could live to old age if she remains healthy, they said.
Their thoughts sometimes become pleas to God.
“Either heal her or take her,” Jeff Loftus said.
Danielle Loftus was an outgoing teenager who liked to write and draw in her journal, and who ran the high hurdles in track and played volleyball at Blessed Sacrament before the accident in July 2010, the summer before her freshman year at Chatham Glenwood High School.
The accident involved two jet skis that were being operated by adults. Danielle was on the back of one craft with another 14-year-old female passenger.
The other jet ski was driven by an adult, an uncle, who had two 11-year-old passengers.
According to a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the jet ski driven by the uncle accidentally struck the jet ski carrying Danielle.
No one on the other watercraft was hurt. Danielle’s 14-year-old cousin, however, suffered collapsed lungs and broken ribs. The girl was hospitalized and since has recovered.
Danielle, who suffered a “diffuse axonal brain injury,” had damage in various parts of the brain and almost died. She spent five weeks at the pediatric intensive care unit at Peoria’s OSF Saint Francis Medical Center and five months at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.
At home, she is fed through a tube in her stomach. She also receives medicine to control seizures.
Standing 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighing less than 100 pounds at the time of the accident, she now is about 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighs about 140 pounds.
She sleeps in her same childhood room down the hall from her parents, who keep tabs on her with a video monitor.
Much of the physical work in caring for Danielle, including bathing her, feeding her and meeting her daily needs is done by her mother.
Lynell Loftus said she gets up at 5:55 a.m. each day to give medicine, start Danielle’s liquid feeding and begin a regular daily schedule in which equipment and braces help Danielle sit up or remain standing during feeding, watching TV, exercising or just being near her parents while they work.
Several years ago, the couple had an addition built on their ranch-style home. The addition features big windows that flood the room with natural light and contains Danielle’s equipment, a raised exercise platform and a hot tub, complete with a ceiling-mounted lift, to help Jeff Loftus get Danielle safely in and out.
Brenda Vail, a physical therapist who worked with Danielle as part of her job with the Chatham school district until Danielle “aged out” of the system at age 22, still treats her.
The Loftuses arrange for Vail, who has become a friend of the family, to work with Danielle for a few hours each week to keep her joints limber and provide some respite time for the couple.
Vail said she can tell from Danielle’s eye position, smile and tension in her body how Danielle is feeling.
Vail said she can tell that Danielle enjoys conversation, watching Hallmark movies and being read to, especially the Harry Potter books, “Black Beauty” and the Fablehaven fantasy book series.
Vail said she enjoys taking part in all of that and “helping someone with resources I have.”
She said Lynell and Jeff Loftus have done a “phenomenal job” of keeping Danielle on a regular schedule and providing the best quality of life possible.
Life goes on
Life also has progressed for Danielle’s sisters, Rachel, 20, and Taylor, 22.
Rachel is a junior at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, majoring in criminal justice with a double major in forensic science and psychology.
Taylor, who graduated from the Missouri University of Science and Technology, is a nuclear engineer working for the federal government in Knoxville, Tennessee. She is engaged to be married next year to a man she first met at Glenwood High.
Jeff Loftus continues to play drums in a local band called “After Sunset.”
Danielle and her parents all came down with COVID-19 during a trip to Florida in February but experienced only mild symptoms.
Going forward, Lynell Loftus said her husband is the “rock” of the family as everyone deals with Danielle’s future. Lynell said her emotions are more variable.
She said she continues to fervently believe “a miracle is coming.”
Friends come over every week to the Loftus home to pray. Lynell Loftus also reads her Bible and finds the sermons of Joel Osteen to be motivational and comforting.
Jeff Loftus said he views Danielle’s situation from “30,000 feet.”
“The big picture is she’s still here, and she’s still healthy,” he said.
Danielle already may have fulfilled her destiny, Jeff Loftus said. The family’s CaringBridge.org blog, where Lynell used to post regularly, contains many posts by people who said their faith was renewed by Danielle’s story.
Jeff Loftus and his wife said they are careful not to think their situation as more challenging than anyone else’s.
“Everybody’s fighting something,” he said.