RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - It’s been almost six years since Amber West watched her 5-year-old daughter tumble from a horse at the Black Hills Stock Show & Rodeo.
She said it seems like yesterday that Jaycie fell, her small head then struck by the horse’s hoof.
“I remember every second,” West said of the Jan. 25, 2008, accident in the indoor riding arena at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.
Jaycie West lay on the ground, moaning. She was, however, bleeding only slightly from the top of her head.
“I thought we were headed to get stitches,” said Amber, who was shocked during the ambulance ride to Rapid City Regional Hospital when paramedics removed the bandanna from her daughter’s head to reveal her brain tissue had swollen and was bulging from her skull.
A visiting surgeon from Johns Hopkins Medicine confirmed her building fears.
“I looked at him, looking for reassurance, and said, “She’s going to be OK, right?” Amber remembered. “And he looked at me and said, ‘This is as bad as it gets.’
“It felt like somebody had punched me in the stomach.”
Jaycie went into surgery an hour after arriving at the hospital so doctors could repair a 2 1/2 inch by 3 1/2 inch gash on top of her head and remove bone fragments buried in her brain.
The part of her brain that had swollen and had been exposed to the air and dirt at the arena had to be removed.
Amber told the Rapid City Journal (http://bit.ly/1f8FDX1 ) the doctor told her that children with Jaycie’s type of brain injury have a good chance of not being cognitively affected because the brain can regenerate and compensate for what was lost.
“It’s amazing,” Amber said.
Jaycie stayed in intensive care for 10 days and then transferred to the children’s floor of the hospital for a week, spending another two and a half weeks in a rehabilitation center to recover movement in the left side of her body.
When she returned home, she had physical-therapy sessions in Philip, where the Wests lived at the time.
And as the family prepares to attend the Black Hills Stock Show & Rodeo this year, Jan. 31 through Feb. 9 in Rapid City, there is little reminder of the accident, save for a scar beneath Jaycie’s wispy blond hair and a finger that sometimes goes numb.
“God has a big plan for her,” Amber said. “She very well could not have made it that day. To make it, much less be 100 percent functional and smart and not one single handicap, is amazing.”
Now 11, Jaycie said her love of horses has never waned. She doesn’t remember the accident, but does remember doing rehabilitation exercises and can recall some of the new people she met, including President Barack Obama in 2009.
Obama pointed at her in the crowd of Children’s Miracle Network visitors to the White House and Jaycie West invited him to “come to South Dakota to play basketball, go hunting and ride horses.” The president replied, “That’s a busy day.”
Being atop a horse is second-nature for Jaycie, who now lives on a ranch 17 miles south of Union Center with her mother, a competitive barrel racer, her father, Zach, a team roper and retired bronc rider, and younger brother, Eastan.
“Brownie is my new one,” Jaycie said of her horses. Her favorite rodeo sport now is barrel racing, a love she learned from her mother.
Now one of 14 students at a country school in Hereford, the fifth-grader plays piano and basketball, listens to country music - particularly Miranda Lambert - and hangs out with her friends.
Amber said she remembers standing over her daughter on the day of the accident as the medical team worked on her at the hospital.
“When the doctor said it (was bad), I went into the bathroom, threw up and had a meltdown,” she said. “But Eastan, he was 3 - and I had to pull myself together.”
Zach said he went outside and had a moment and after that, it was, “OK, we’re not going to settle for anything other than her being fine. We’re not going to sit around and cry and poor-me. We’re determined she’s going to be OK and that’s just all there is to it.”
Over the course of many months, Jaycie slowly regained movement in her hands and the left side of her body. She faced another challenge when she returned home, however. Her horse, Wanda, the one that had been her motivation to keep up with her rehab work, became ill.
“That’s how I got her to work through rehab,” Amber said. “She was frustrated and tired. They worked her hard. She would say, ‘My hand won’t work.’ I’d say, ‘Honey you have to keep trying; Wanda is waiting for you to get better and get home so you can ride.’ So, she’d try again.”
Wanda, a male horse, died a week after Jaycie returned home.
“He came in off-pasture from the barn and looked terrible,” Amber said. “We ran him to the vet and we had to put him down.”
It didn’t deter Jaycie from her love of horses.
“She’s never been afraid to ride,” Amber said. “She rides very well.”
Jaycie competed in her first barrel race eight months after the accident. She now rides a horse named Miss Muffet and has qualified for the 4-H Rodeo Finals.
“There’s times she wins more money than I do,” Amber said laughing.
Like any parent, she said she’s still nervous when her children are doing anything dangerous.
“My son is 9 and all boy,” Amber said. “He rides and drives everything, works cattle and rides and ropes and it terrifies me.
“You can’t put them in bubble wrap,” she said. “I know how quickly life can change. Just be prepared. Use safety precautions and have faith in God that they will be OK.”
Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com