11 weeks later, girl kicked by mule released from hospital

"I want my daddy!"

Four little words were a really big deal when spoken by a 9-year-old late last week. The words were one more sign of progress for Emma Caroline Johnson, who sustained a traumatic brain injury on New Year's Eve.

On Tuesday, the Cherokee County reached another major milestone toward her recovery. Eleven weeks after being kicked in the head by a mule, Emma will sleep in her own home again.

Emma was released Tuesday from Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, where she has been since Dec. 31, when she sustained a brain injury in a neighbor's pasture. That's when Emma and her mother were trying to lure two wayward mules into a neighbor's pasture when one of the animals kicked the girl, knocking her unconscious.

"She's 9 years old and she's familiar with horses, but these were large mules," Thomas Ross, the girl's neighbor, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution hours after Emma was injured.

Emma was in critical condition when she was flown to the hospital, where she underwent emergency surgery to remove a portion of her skull. With family members constantly by her side, the third-grader has continued to improve.

"She's a very spunky, very determined, very stubborn little girl, and that's going to be to her advantage" Sheila Adams, Emma's aunt, said in January. Adams has monitored Emma's progress on a Caring Bridge website, focusing on the footsteps, smiles and other signs that have let the little girl's family know she's a fighter. The family is hopeful Emma will make a full recovery, though she still faces months of rehabilitation.

Even though she'll no longer be in the hospital, she'll continue her rehabilitation five days a week, according to her family. She will travel Monday through Friday, about 40 minutes each way, for several hours of therapy, her family said.

"We all believe that Emma will make even more drastic improvements when she is surrounded by all the familiar (sights), sounds, and smells of home," Adams posted online.

A separate website has been created to assist the family with medical costs.