If you only had a day to live, how would you spend it? For 11-year-old Sienna Livermore, a diagnosis of life-threatening septic arthritis in her hips meant another day became a hope and a luxury, after doctors told her she wouldn’t make it through the night.
Her medical team at Sydney Children’s Hospital Randwick feared that even if she did survive, she would never walk again. But that wasn’t going to cut it for Sienna.
The Year 6 Sacred Heart Mosman student was hospitalised at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
After experiencing excruciating pain in her hips she was rushed by ambulance to Randwick, where Sienna and her mother Ann-Marie learned of the “life or death situation.”
“Over the course of a few days I had two surgeries on either hip. I was in hospital for three weeks with heavy antibiotics and steroid treatment. I had rehabilitation and blood tests every day,” Sienna told The Catholic Weekly.
“I never gave up. I told my mum after my surgery that I would walk again and play basketball. It was my dream—it was my passion!”
Not only was Sienna fighting for her life, but due to COVID restrictions she was only allowed to have one family member with her at a time.
Sienna’s mother Ann-Marie describes the time as “very scary” but was inspired by her daughter’s focus.
“Sienna has always been a positive and happy person, so it was her determination that got her through it,” she said.
Sienna credits her strength and positivity to her relationship with, and faith in, God.
“I knew that God would look after me and he helped me to not be afraid. I did numerous prayers to get me through and it led my path,” she said.
As soon as the hospital bracelet was cut from her wrist, Sienna got to work on making her basketball dream a reality.
She underwent intensive rehabilitation with physiotherapist Rosemary Gallagher.
“The most amazing thing I could offer her was tailored hydrotherapy in a heated pool. Because this was during Covid most other pools closed and stayed closed for years, but because mine was one-on-one, I was the only hydrotherapy pool functioning,” Rosemary said.
The advantage of being able to create different weight-bearing and resistance scenarios coupled with the relaxing warmth of the water proved to be invaluable to her rehabilitation process.
After three months of learning to walk again in the pool, Sienna then transitioned to muscle stimulation therapy.
“She was always happy to come and never resisted or complained, she never even grumbled. She has quite an inquisitive mind so we had many conversations about what and why we were doing things,” Rosemary said.
She credits Sienna’s family for wrapping around her and assisting her speedy recovery.
“They really nurtured her through this traumatic experience. She had a very inconsistent start to her diagnosis and was told there was nothing wrong with her, but my advice was, ‘A mother knows,’” she said.
Although Sienna’s immediate family was only allowed to spend limited time with her in hospital, once she was home there was no stopping the love and support she had by her side.
In much the same way, there was no stopping Sienna from achieving her basketball dreams.
“She got out there with one crutch, and she stood on our driveway and practiced her static form shooting. Right hand, then left hand for hours on end because that was the only thing she could do. It’s made her a stronger shooter today,” Ann-Marie said.
Now entering her third year of representative basketball for North Bears, Sienna has also been selected into the Mackillop Girls Basketball team.
“I’m so excited and happy about it. It’s a dream come true,” she said.
From being told she would never walk again to taking the basketball court by storm, 11-year-old Sienna has a message for anyone who’s struggling or has lost their way.
“Life is like a bumpy road, there’s always going to be ups and downs. Whenever you fall down or get pushed back, you have to get right up again and use it to make you stronger.”