Molly adapts to preschool.
A look at Molly
July 6: In the first installment of a two-part series, the Steamboat Pilot & Today described what happened to Molly Look of North Routt on Jan. 17, 2007, when Molly, then 3 years old, walked outside of her family's house in sub-zero temperatures to visit her pet bunny.
Today: The story of Molly's recovery and ongoing therapy, as she copes with injuries including the loss of nearly all the fingers on her right hand.
North Routt Since Jan. 17, 2007, every day of Molly Look's life has been about accomplishments, big and small.
With snow still covering the playground at the Child Development Center in Steamboat Springs early this spring, Molly could be found, as is typical, playing on a swing dressed in her snow clothes, without gloves.
"Look," Molly, now 4, shouted while pumping her legs to soar as high as she could. "I can hold on with my hands."
Peggy Frias, Molly's occupational therapist, smiled at Molly from the sidewalk.
"It surprised herself how she could hold on," Frias said. "She likes doing stuff for herself, and always has, and now is just learning to do it with what she has to work with."
During Molly's nearly two-week stay at The Children's Hospital in Denver, it became apparent frostbite was going to claim some of her fingers and possibly toes, but doctors did not know how many.
Molly had been subjected to temperatures as low as 28 degrees below zero for possibly half an hour when she wandered away from home on the coldest day of the 2006-07 winter, before being found by a neighbor driving to work. With a body temperature of 82 degrees, Molly nearly died.
Molly's mother, Yvette, took pictures of the injuries the first night and sent them to family friend Dr. Scott Sulentich, a plastic surgeon in Steamboat.
"The pictures were dramatic," Sulentich recalled in June. "They were bad."
Once Molly was stable, she was released from the Denver hospital to be cared for by Sulentich and Dr. Jeanne Fitzsimmons, another close friend of the Look family.
"I knew Molly would do better and the family would be better if they were home," Sulentich said.
Even at home, the horrific event was still fresh to Molly, who was heavily medicated for the pain and essentially isolated from people to prevent infection.
Molly panicked anytime she could not see her mom or dad.
"I couldn't even go to the kitchen," Yvette said. "She would just flip. Pure hysteria. It was absolute fear and terror."
Every night was equally scary, with Molly reliving the horrific event in her dreams and feeling the pain.
"She'd wake up scared and screaming," Yvette said. "At one point it was so horrific we had oral morphine we were giving her. It was (about) holding her 24/7 and trying to get her to eat."
Molly went from weighing 34 pounds to 24 pounds.
"It was like picking up a doll," Yvette said.
Facing the community
While Yvette was caring for Molly at home, Del Look, Molly's father, attended a Feb. 6, 2007, spaghetti dinner benefiting Molly at the old Steamboat Springs Community Center.
"I didn't want to go," Del said. "I was embarrassed about the whole thing. I was embarrassed she got hurt."
The parking lots were filled with cars when Del arrived.
"I remember walking, you just have that lump in your throat and tears in your eyes," said Del, a Steamboat native. "It was nothing short of amazing. It makes you realize that Steamboat still has that small-town atmosphere. The community is still intact."
More than $75,000 was raised to help pay more than $100,000 in medical bills for Molly.
"As much as we needed it and appreciated it, it was hard," Yvette said. "It's so hard to let people know how appreciative we are because a simple thank you isn't enough."
Although most people were supportive, there were some who felt Molly had been neglected by her parents, even after the Routt County Sheriff's Office found no evidence of neglect and determined it was an unfortunate accident.
"There is a small group of people who actually still think that I should be put in jail," Yvette said.
The Sheriff's Office noted there had been "slight miscommunication" between the parents about who had Molly that morning.
"I know there are some people out there that don't understand how it could happen," Del said. "I never thought it could happen to us."
All not lost
Molly's bandages had to be changed every other day for six weeks after the accident, with doctors Sulentich and Fitzsimmons volunteering their time.
She was sedated and felt no pain during the procedures, but her parents did.
"I stopped going because I just had to tell myself at one point I have to deal with the end result," Del said.
Looking at the wounds, it was still unclear what fingers and toes Molly would lose.
"You get your hopes up for something, and you come back three days later, and you look at it, and you're just so depressed," he added.
After four surgeries to remove dead tissue and repair the damage, Molly was feeling better and was off the heavy pain medications. She was left with half a thumb on her dominant right hand. On her left, she had her thumb, middle and ring fingers. Her right big toe also fell off, but Del and Yvette were somewhat relieved.
"We were afraid we were going to lose who she was," Yvette said. "We didn't lose any of that, which we're really thankful for."
Molly quickly adapted, Sulentich said.
He recalled seeing Molly in the waiting room immediately after a surgery, holding a bag of crackers.
"I was just about to ask her if she wanted me to open it," but she opened it herself, Sulentich said. "I looked at Yvette and said 'see.' It was apparent right then that she was going to be fine."
Audrey Zwak, a longtime Look family friend and preschool director at Christian Heritage School, remembers the day Molly came back to preschool at Christian Heritage with her new hands.
"I got my bandages off, ta-da," Molly said as she raised her arms to show her classmates.
"We would say 'your hands look wonderful Molly, they're so pretty,' and she'd just smile," Zwak said. "That's not normal. That's exceptional."
Zwak said she was overwhelmed when Molly returned to school.
"We have children that get a bump on their knee and for the whole rest of the day, the day's ruined, and she just never thinks like that," Zwak said.
Molly was not shy and did not try to hide her injuries. Sometimes Molly would even draw attention to them by painting the fingernails she did have pink.
Molly's classmates were curious about her hands, but she would explain it simply: "I went outside, it was really cold, my hands got hurt real bad."
While playing with Play-Doh, Molly once explained her finger situation to Zwak.
"I don't know where they are, I can't get them back, and this is how they're going to be," Molly told her.
A ray of sun
In addition to preschool at Christian Heritage, Molly was enrolled last school year in the Steamboat Springs School District's early childhood program, where she received occupational therapy.
There were 12 children in her class, three of whom also were missing body parts.
"It kind of created a bond between those girls," said Nancy Perricone, who taught Molly's class and has a background in occupational therapy.
When Molly realizes she needs to do things differently, she finds a way.
"She's able to do pretty much everything a kid at this age would be expected (to do)," said Frias, adding she thinks Molly will develop normally, needing minimal adaptive tools.
"She identifies when she does need help and she'll request it, but other than that, she doesn't like being separated out," Frias said.
Molly's dexterity surprises most people, including her grandmother Bonnie Printy, who Molly calls "Mema." Just last month, Printy watched as Molly undid the clasp on a necklace.
"I said I'd be glad to do it, and she said 'I can do it Mema.'"
Printy said Molly does not dwell on having lost her fingers, but she does miss them, and recently shared with her grandmother some regret: "I wish sometimes it didn't happen, and I had my fingers back."
But Perricone described Molly as self-confident and said she doesn't worry about not being able to do things.
"She just assumes she'll do things the other kids do, and she does," Perricone said. "She's full of self confidence. She's just like a ray of sunshine when she comes in the room. She's always happy and cheery. It must be who she always was."
- To reach Matt Stensland, call 871-4247 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org