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Rediscovering Ashlyn’s “Fierce” Self

Ashlyn returned to ballet after her accident and rehabilitation.

Update:  Since this story ran in 2016, Ashlyn has continued to exceed all expectations. Now a kindergartener, Ashlyn can write her letters, say all her letter sounds, and can recognize “sight words” she’s learning in class. Her brain injury hasn’t stopped her from excelling alongside her peers. In an effort to give back, Ashlyn’s family is doing 50 days of fundraising for Gillette, beginning the day of the accident, April 17, and ending the day she finally left Gillette to come home, June 5.  

The Stombaugh family invites you to donate in honor of Ashlyn. All donations will go toward purchasing a mobile CT scanner, a piece of diagnostic equipment that is ideal for children too medically fragile to transport elsewhere, such as those with traumatic brain injuries. If Gillette can raise $600,000 by August 1, 2018, the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation will match it with another $600,000, making the purchase of a mobile CT scanner possible.

Slowly and deliberately, 3-year-old Ashlyn reaches down to her socks. She pulls them off, one by one, and throws them over the side of her hospital bed. Now she’s ready for naptime. 

Ashlyn’s seemingly simple action moves her mom, Amanda Stombaugh, to tears. At that moment, she knows her little girl isn’t lost. “Before the accident, Ashlyn always removed her socks before naptime or bedtime,” she says. “That’s her personality—it’s part of who she is.”


Ashlyn and Lucinda, one of her favorite PICU nurses.

Twelve days earlier, on April 17, 2015, Ashlyn had been critically injured when a dump truck hit her family’s car. Her brother, Noah, experienced a concussion, sprained ankle and minor contusion.  Her dad, Luke Stombaugh, sustained broken ribs and a severely broken arm that required urgent surgery. All three were rushed by ambulance to Regions Hospital and Gillette Children’s, which co-operate a Level I Pediatric Trauma Center. Regions Hospital also runs a Level I Adult Trauma Center.   

When Ashlyn arrived at Gillette Children’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, doctors discovered severe swelling, bruising and bleeding in her brain. She also had skull fractures and broken bones. “We were so worried that maybe there would be permanent damage, that maybe she would be different,” recalls Amanda.

Ashlyn took ballet lessons before her brain injury. Thankfully, after months of rehabiltiation and recovery, she was able to return to dance.

Ashlyn took ballet lessons before her brain injury. Thankfully, after months of rehabilitation and recovery, she was able to return to dance.

To her family’s joy, pulling off her socks became the first of many feats Ashlyn would achieve during her seven-week hospital stay. Intense physical, occupational and speech therapy helped Ashlyn regain strength and mobility. Her personality, which her family describes as “fierce,” began to reemerge.

During Ashlyn’s inpatient stay, her mom—who was nine months pregnant at the time of the accident—gave birth to a baby girl at the Regions Hospital Birth Center. She named the baby Lucinda, a name shared by the Gillette critical care nurse who supported their family most.


Lucinda VerSteeg, RN, with Ashlyn, Amanda, and baby Lucinda.

Seven weeks after the accident, on June 5, 2015, Ashlyn had progressed enough to return home. Today she is enjoying dance class and looking forward to her first recital—she missed last year’s because of the accident. She still deals with damaged hearing and eyesight, and wears a pink helmet to prevent further injury to her fragile brain.  

“You would think Gillette would be a place of trauma after what we went through, but for me it's been quite the opposite,” says Amanda Stombaugh. Everyone we encountered there made us feel safe, cared for and supported. It feels like home now.”

Close-up of Ashlyn's ballet slippers.