Good things follow Eatonville family’s horrible crash

Staff writerJune 20, 2014 

  • How to help

    To find out what volunteer skills are needed for the renovation, and to learn about upcoming fundraisers, visit facebook.com/TeamMcKenzieHarris.

    Examining the sprinkler system and replacing some of landscaping removed for the construction is among the help still need, as well as some siding work.

    To help with the family’s ongoing expenses, donations can be made via bit.ly/1fFFrif.

    Checks, as well as encouraging letters for McKenzie, can be sent to 127 Mashell Ave., PMB 51, Eatonville, WA 98328.

McKenzie Harris has had a lot of firsts this year.

The 7-year-old Eatonville girl lost her first tooth.

She met Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

And she was able to move back into her family’s home after months at Seattle Children’s Hospital, following a New Year’s Day crash that left her a quadriplegic.

Her mom, dad, brother and two cousins were hurt in the wreck near state Route 7 and 316th Street East on Jan. 1, when a driver crossed the center line of the highway near their home and hit them head-on.

The driver, 48-year-old Glenn Fitting, died in the crash. Washington State Patrol troopers believe he might have had a medical emergency behind the wheel.

Of McKenzie’s accomplishments in the past six months, probably most exciting was what she showed her parents days before she got to go home May 28.

“Mom,” she said, “look what I can do.”

Sara Harris watched as her daughter — for the first time since the crash — moved her right arm at the elbow.

“That’s me, Mommy,” she said, when asked whether it might be a muscle spasm. A nurse confirmed it.

“She was so proud of herself, you can tell on her face,” Sara Harris said later.

She sent a video to McKenzie’s father, Doug Harris, who was working on the family’s house in preparation for their daughter’s return.

“Everybody here started crying,” he said of volunteer workers at the construction site. “I basically dropped my tools and left for Seattle.”

By the next morning, McKenzie could move her left arm some, too.

Since then, she’s been able to push things off her leg with her right arm, and had some movement in one toe.

“That’s been very, very exciting for us,” Doug Harris said.

The prognosis of her condition is still day-by-day. The family has been settling into a schedule for nurses to visit and help out.

“Someone has to be eyes on her 24 hours a day,” Sara Harris said. “Right now, she’s completely ‘vent’ dependent.”

Having a ventilator to help her breathe initially meant McKenzie’s voice was barely audible, but with practice it started getting louder about a month ago. And she’s able to say full sentences, instead of focusing on individual words.

She came home from the hospital to a yard full of pink (her favorite color), glittery letters that spelled out, “Welcome Home McKenzie.”

The extended family was reunited for the first time since the crash. For a while, Sara and McKenzie were staying in Seattle at the hospital, while Doug and McKenzie’s 4-year-old brother Wyatt were in Eatonville.

Now McKenzie can play with her young cousins.

“They were so happy to see each other,” Sara Harris said.

As the final touches are put on the home renovation, McKenzie has been set up in the living room.

Soon, she’ll move into what she tells her mother is her “teen room.” It’s painted in blue tones to match the movie “Frozen,” and has a huge kitchen, where serious baking will happen.

There will be baking parties, in fact, where McKenzie says she and friends will make cookies.

The best kind: “chocolate chip.”

“She’s really excited that she has a better kitchen than mom and dad,” Sara Harris said.

The room also will have a nursing station and a special lift for McKenzie. She was nervous the first time she tried the lift at the hospital, but one of her favorite nurses hopped in first, to show her it’d be OK.

The family became close with several caretakers at Children’s Hospital, including their respiratory therapist, who plans to give McKenzie some of his chickens to look after.

He was among those crying when McKenzie first moved her arm, Sara Harris said.

But her daughter did have a bone to pick with the hospital staff.

While they introduced her to Wilson when the Super Bowl-winning quarterback was at the hospital, they didn’t get her attention when rap artist Macklemore was making the rounds.

His song “Thrift Shop” is one of her jams.

McKenzie had to be content with pumping the nurses for details, such as whether the singer was wearing his trademark furry coat.

Her little brother got along well with the hospital staff too.

On a recent trip to the hospital Wyatt ran away from mom and dad to give his favorite nurse a big hug, and she carried him all the way into the hospital, Doug Harris said with a laugh.

Wyatt and the nurse had a routine, where at the start of every shift, she’d get him a Gatorade and macaroni and cheese.

The boy declined to be interviewed for this story, shouting “No!” when asked if he’d answer a few questions.

But before returning to his toys at the family’s home, he paused to say: “I’m glad Kenzie’s here.”

For now, the family is focusing on making their property a one-stop shop for all things summer fun. This is their first summer at the house.

“She can do anything she wants at home,” Sara Harris said.

A deck that was three levels has been renovated to one.

“So McKenzie can still be part of our family barbecues,” Doug Harris said.

A new elevator reaches from the top floor of the house to the basement, where Sara’s aunt has moved in to help out.

A big play set with a wheelchair swing is in Wyatt and McKenzie’s future.

“You’ll have to push me, you know,” she said.

That won’t be a problem, her mom told her.

Max, the family’s fluffy black kitty, sleepily guarded the family’s porch recently. Asked if it was nice to be back with him, McKenzie said: “He’s a funny kitty.”

Then, seriously, she said to her dad: “He was being mean (to a guest) the other day. He hissed.”

She also wanted to know when Charger the boxer and Chihuahuas Sparky and Pebbles will come home from where they’ve been staying.

Soon, Dad said.

Also coming up is McKenzie’s eighth birthday in September. She’s planning to visit the American Girl store in Seattle, where she’ll probably design a doll that looks like her, Sara Harris said.

She’s still healing from her own injuries from the wreck. After being in a wheelchair for months, she’s been walking, sometimes with a crutch, and faces a couple years of physical therapy.

Neither parent has been able to go back to work. Community donations went to the renovation but day-to-day bills have been tough.

“It’s pinching us pretty good,” Doug Harris said.

He plans to return to work as foreman for an electric construction company soon, and Sara Harris plans to pick up work from home as a business manager for Tacoma General Hospital’s Emergency Department.

But they’re not sure what is going to be feasible, with the family still settling into new routines.

“She wants Mom a lot,” Dad said of McKenzie.

One of her first days home, McKenzie took a spin around the sidewalks (“My sidewalks!” as far as Wyatt is concerned) that circle the house. She wanted to test them by making a trip to check the mail.

Inscribed in cement was a message McKenzie and her family wrote: “It takes hands to build a house, but only hearts can build a home. Thank you to all of the volunteers, 2014.”

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268 alexis.krell@thenewstribune.com thenewstribune.com/crime-news @amkrell

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