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Back Home: Lockesburg youth recovering after sinus infection leads to brain surgery

Sarah Puckett during an outdoor therapy session at Arkansas Children’s Hospital where she stayed from September to December after brain surgery.

By John Balch

News-Leader staff

LOCKESBURG – It truly was a Christmas miracle that 12-year-old Sarah Puckett was home for the holidays and the new year.

Puckett, a sixth grader at De Queen, returned to her Lockesburg home and family the first week of December 2023 after being in Arkansas Children’s Hospital since September.

Sarah’s ordeal began back in the summer with strep and an ear infection. She started having severe headaches that kept her in bed and eventually led to the De Queen hospital where tests indicated Sarah’s white blood count was way too high.

“We went to Children’s Hospital by ambulance that night,” said Sarah’s mother, Teresa Puckett, about Sept. 21, 2023.

Doctors determined Sarah was suffering from inflamed sinuses and further tests found an infected abscess in her head that was swelling. The overall diagnosis was hydrocephalus and a section of her skull had to be removed so surgeons could get out the infection that had made it to her brain.

Today at home, Sarah is still missing part of her skull which requires her to wear a helmet at all times. She can only speak a few words and cannot walk on her own with her right side partly paralyzed (she’s right-handed).

Sarah has now started a regiment of physical and speech therapy in Nashville and is on the long road to recovery.

“Before all this, Sarah was a shy, caring little girl that loved to run and play outside, riding four-wheelers with her brother,” said Teresa. “She loves arts and crafts and loves taking care of her little nephew.”

Teresa, who stayed by her child’s side in Little Rock virtually the entire time, said Sarah can now communicate some with a speech assistance app but is having to “retrain her brain” to do even simple tasks.

“She gets frustrated if I don’t understand what she’s trying to say,” Teresa said about working with the speech app. “But, they said it would take time for her to start talking again and she has been working on speech so hard.”

During her lengthy stay at ACH, her De Queen classmates sent her gifts and her best friend visited. Mother said her child cherished visitors during her hospital stay, especially her Granny Doris Whitaker, who brought her favorite homemade cookies

“Her prognosis is good but will be slow,” according to Teresa.

Teresa said she is thankful for all the people who have assisted and supported her family during this difficult time, including her employer, Dierks Health & Rehab, where her boss told her family comes first.

Teresa also expressed gratitude for the “amazing staff” at ACH who always smiled and tried to get Sarah to smile and giggle at them.

Sarah will have to return to ACH for many appointments in 2024. Teresa said it has not been determined yet how and when Sarah’s skull will be patched and what all 2024 will entail.

Either way, Sarah is home and improving and her mother could not be more relieved.

“She’s still my shy and loving girl, just given to us in a different way now,” she said.

“We will all have to learn her ways.”

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