SARA’S eyes flutter with excitement as another hymn reaches her ears.
Her sister Zina is singing the melody, and watches as Sara follows with her eyes to the familiar sounds.
The blanket laid over Sara’s body rises with her breath, causing the wooden Rosary beads placed on top to wriggle back and forth.
There are other signs of the Catholic faith everywhere in the room – a small bottle of holy water from Marian Valley sits on the bedside table; an image of the crucifix is attached to the wall above Sara’s head; and the Madonna’s image is there too.
Zina remembers how she used to sit next to Sara at church when they were living in Toowoomba with their four siblings and parents Mehret and Meskel Mehari.
Originally from Eritrea, the Mehari family lived in Sudan for several years before migrating to Australia “seeking a better life” in 2013.
The family lived in Toowoomba for three years, and despite having no other family in Australia, took every opportunity to adapt to their new home.
They will never forget what happened to Sara on September 27 last year.
Zina, a nursing student, should have been at university that day, but chose to stay home while her mum and dad went to work.
“I’ll catch up on my homework at night,” she thought.
“I decided to just stay with the kids because it was the last day of the holiday, Term 3,” Zina said.
The decision would save Sara’s life.
“She was playing in the backyard of our house,” Zina said.
“She was swinging (on the clothesline) and suddenly she stopped breathing.”
Zina called triple zero then rushed out to the clothesline to perform emergency CPR on Sara for 15 minutes.
When the ambulance arrived, Sara was taken to the Toowoomba Hospital, but after three hours was flown to Brisbane for emergency care at Lady Cilento Hospital.
The police arrived at the Mehari house later that night to break the news to Mehret, Zina and Sara’s mother.
“When I came (home from work, I said) ‘Where is my daughter?’,” Mehret said.
“My son is saying, ‘Mummy, can we pray?’.
“I say ‘Why pray? Where is Sara?’
“They say Sara was spinning, told me what happened, and I cried.
“The police come in, they say, ‘Are you mum?
“They say I have to go to hospital.”
Sara was taken to the intensive care unit at Lady Cilento Hospital and put on a ventilator for one week.
Doctors took her off the ventilator with the hope of her breathing, but when she failed, was put back on the machine.
“After two weeks they said ‘This is the last chance, we will be taking the ventilator and she will pass away’,” Zina said.
“They took (her off) the ventilator … and here she is.”
Sara is alive, but she cannot walk, talk or eat due to a hypoxic brain injury caused by the accident.
She can, however, hear, and when she hears prayers or songs, she moves her eyes and batts her eyelids to show she is paying attention.
A sign above her bed at the rehabilitation ward, where Sara has lived for the past seven months, tells visitors to talk to her.
“It’s like training the mind again,” Zina said.
“We just tell her everything – what’s happening, what she’s going to hear, what she’s going to see.
“Good morning, good afternoon, good night, and pray the Rosary.”
Mehret sat by Sara’s bed every day in the hospital, a total of seven months, sleeping on a single mattress on a spring frame just centimetres from her daughter.
Some nights she can’t sleep and just cares for her daughter.
Mehret left the hospital only once in the seven months – to take Sara to the Easter Mass at St Joseph’s Church, Bracken Ridge, where they now call home.
She has not worked since her daughter’s accident.
The family relies on Centrelink payments as dad Meskel, who speaks limited English, struggles to find work in a new city.
Mehret admits the days are difficult and that crying has become a normal part of her life.
“But also everything is in God’s hand,” Mehret said.
“God is doing everything.
“No one knows the future, what happens – God knows what happens.
“The doctor said she would pass away but she couldn’t – now she is alive.”
During the day at the hospital, the family received many visitors, including chaplains, priests and parishioners from their old community at St Thomas More Church, Toowoomba.
Former Lady Cilento Hospital chaplain Fr Bob Harwood was one of the first to meet the Mehari family, who summoned a Catholic priest as soon as they arrived at the ICU.
“I used to walk in and Zina would be reading Scripture on her phone, and singing songs,” Fr Harwood said.
“Sara responds well to songs.”
Sometimes Fr Harwood would pop in when the entire family of eight were sitting in the small room, ready to give Communion to Sara.
“If I took Communion on Sunday, which I did, I always made sure I had many hosts,” he said.
“I offered Communion to Sara with a bit of the blood (of Christ) on the tip of my finger.”
Earlier this year Fr Harwood was appointed to Redcliffe parish, meaning his regular visits to the Mehari family were ending.
“When I knew I was moving, they were the ones I thought of first,” he said.
Fr Harwood’s replacement, Capuchin Father John Nguyen, was a splendid surprise to the Mehari family, who had not seen a priest in a Capuchin habit since they left their Sudanese home.
Sara will most likely be home with her family for the first time since September in early June.
She will be in a wheelchair and needs 24-hour care at their home in Bracken Ridge, provided by the Department of Housing.
They have been told that the hospital will provide them with three hours of care to support Mehret and her family but they believe it is not enough.
They require at minimum two people to care for Sara every day.
The family also needs funds for a wheelchair-accessible car, which will cost them a minimum of $55,000, money they don’t have because of being unable to find work.
They hope to take Sara to Marian Valley and wash her in a bath of holy water when they have secured a car, if not before.
Both Zina and Mehret agree that without their strong Catholic faith, life would be much, much harder.
“God always tests the people that He trusts, (that) they will pass the exams,” Zina translates for her mum.