'She's a real fighter': Amber Athwal learning to walk again
20 months after a brain injury from a dental procedure, Amber's progress has 'amazed everyone,' says dad
A six-year-old Edmonton girl left with brain damage after a dental procedure in 2016 is once again defying expectations and learning to walk again.
Amber Athwal was all smiles Monday as her father wheeled her into the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital, where she's trained over the past six weeks on a device known as a Lokomat.
It's basically a large treadmill that supports her body weight while robotic legs guide the movements of her own legs.
Amber giggled often as she and her physiotherapists pretended to cut a plastic pink cake on a tray in front of her as a way to improve her arm mobility.
"Amber's progression amazed everyone," said her father, Ramandeep Athwal. "All the doctors — nobody expected these things from Amber. But she's a real fighter. She's shown really good progress from Day 1. And we are very positive about it."
Nobody expected these things from Amber. But she's a real fighter. She's shown really good progress from Day 1.- Ramandeep Athwal
In February, the Alberta Dental Association and College found Dr. William Mather guilty of failing to provide appropriate care during Amber's tooth extraction on Sept. 7, 2016.
Amber, who was four at the time, went into cardiac arrest while she was recovering from the general anesthesia. She suffered permanent brain damage because of oxygen deprivation.
But the family chose to focus on Amber's future, pouring in as much time, effort and money as possible into her recovery so their daughter wouldn't suffer her whole life, her dad told CBC News Monday.
Athwal said initially they were told their little girl wouldn't be able to see, listen or talk again and would need to be tube-fed.
She was still using a feeding tube when she was released from the Glenrose in January 2017 and couldn't hold up her head on her own. But progress was swift.
Less than a year and a half later, Amber is sitting on her own, can use words in both English and Punjabi to explain what she needs and to call to people, including her "Papa."
She's drinking and eating again and butter chicken is her favourite.
But there are still painful reminders. Athwal said his four-year-old daughter often asks why Amber is now "like this."
On Monday, Amber shook hands with the CBC crew at the Glenrose and showed off her pink nail polish, her wide smile revealing the gap where her four front teeth are still missing from the 2016 procedure.
Athwal said they have since devoted every moment they could to Amber. He credits much of her progress to his wife who is constantly working on her rehabilitation but also to Amber — who wants to walk, run, learn and "play with the other kids" — for all the effort she makes.
In July, Amber started private physiotherapy, as well as speech and occupational therapies, but it's not cheap or affordable for the family. Their lawyers are footing the bill which runs as high as $8,000 a month, said Athwal.
Athwal had to leave his daughter's side full-time and return to his job as a dispatcher, where he still has time to drive Amber to her various therapies while fielding work emails and phone calls.
The family has filed a $26.5-million lawsuit against Mather, who denies any wrongdoing. The allegations have not been proven in court.
As Amber wraps up her sixth week of training at the Glenrose, Athwal is hopeful an assessment at the end of the month will lead to more physiotherapy this summer. He says it's his daughter's joy that keeps him motivated.
"She's always happy, she's always smiling," said Athwal. "And that's what motivates, keeps us happy as well. That even going through with this thing — she's happy. Why can't we be happy?"