Updated:ORLANDO, Fla. —
Next month will mark one year since an Orange County teenager was shot as she rode in her family's
minivan through Pine Hills.
Danielle Sampson, who was 15 at the time, was shot in the head and suffered severe brain damage by the stray bullet.
Sampson is living with a bullet lodged in the back of her skull and bullet fragments in her brain, but her doctor told Channel 9's Nancy Alvarez she has seen small improvements over this last year.
Dr. Keyna Johnson visited Sampson at home and talked with Channel 9 about her therapies, which were designed to stimulate Sampson's brain and monitor how she responds to her mother's voice.
Johnson was working at Arnold Palmer Children's Hospital the night Sampson was brought in. Since then, she said she has formed a close bond with the now 16-year-old.
"People look at me and say, 'You're doing this or that,' but I look up to her," said Johnson. "I think she's an awesome young woman and a fighter, so I do feel a true connection to her."
Johnson also told Channel 9 about the extraordinary measures taken to save Sampson's life the night she was shot and the reason she is still hopeful for her recovery.
For Johnson, every visit with Sampson is a search for a sign of hope.
"She hears her mother's voice and immediately opens her eyes," said Johnson.
Johnson said the night Sampson came to the hospital, the bullet was in her brain and pressure was building in her skull. In less than 10 minutes, Johnson performed surgery in the trauma room because there wasn't time to move Sampson to the operating room.
"When I tell a parent I've done all I can do, I truly want to mean that," said Johnson.
In the end, Johnson helped save Sampson's life and formed a connection with her.
"I look up to her," said Johnson. "I think she's an awesome young woman and a fighter."
"I see her as family," said Sampson's mother, Alma Fletcher.
Fletcher said she's happy more kids will be touched by Johnson now that she's opening her own clinic with privileges at all three children's hospitals in Orlando, a move that keeps her busy but never far from the patient she said she'll never give up on.
"If you're breathing and upright or breathing period, there's hope. And you can't lose that," said Johnson.
Johnson's Practice: Brain and Spine Institute for Children