Family returns to China after tragic crash during vacation in Bay Area

In less than 24 hours, a family will be making an emotional return home to China after spending more than a year in the Bay Area due an accident that left their daughter paralyzed.

Baoxia Li said her family came to the U.S. in August 2015 for a vacation that would ultimately end in Disneyland. After two days in the Bay Area, a car accident changed their lives.

“It happened on 101 Freeway and a drunk driver hit us from the back and my daughter was severely injured,” Li said, speaking through a Mandarin interpreter.

A brain injury left 4-year-old Tianyi Lui paralyzed from the neck down. Doctors at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford did not expect her to survive.

“I was frightened,” Li said. “I thought there was nothing that could help my daughter.”

The girl needed two brain surgeries, one following the accident in August. She was moved out of the ICU and into inpatient rehab at Santa Clara Medical Center in October 2015. In December her doctors recommended the second brain surgery, a shunt to improve her rehabilitation progress. 

Director of Rehabilitation Services Debra Seal said Li was a big motivator in her daughter’s recovery. The girl is slowly beginning to make child-like sounds and is encouraged to help feed herself during meals.

“Our team really did a lot of work with her for months and months in the hospital and continued when she left the hospital,” Seal said.

According to Stanford Children’s, the family worked with the hospital's social workers, case managers and medical interpreters to explain the health care landscape and help navigate and advocate for Tianyi. The Ronald McDonald House at Stanford has hosted the family for the past year.

Case Manager Halley Johnson was instrumental in advocating with the state to win the family insurance coverage through Medical and California Children's Services.

“We’ve also worked to transition all of her care to care in China,” Johnson said. "This horrible accident happened to this family here in our county. I think it's our obligation to help them as much as we can."

Early in 2016 the care team, including Johnson and social worker Karen Jensen, set out to make a case for Tianyi to visit Disneyland. Through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the trip was granted in April of 2016.

“I’m really happy to go home, but I don’t know how to say goodbye to the hospital team,” Li added. “I’m really grateful.”

The family returns to Beijing on Wednesday.