Horseback riding accident leaves competitor with spinal cord injury

Dr. Alice Gale has always been active. Last year, if she wasn’t at her dermatology practice, she was outside running, riding her bike or maybe at the gym. For as long as she can remember, she’s ridden horses, and for the past 20 years, she’s jumped horses competitively. Last February, Alice was in Florida for a horse show. She rode her horse around a ring surrounded by a crowd and judges. As she approached the jump, her horse skidded to a halt. Alice didn’t stop– she flew over the horse’s nose.

Everything stopped. The competition lost importance. The judges stopped critiquing. The audience hushed. EMTs rushed over to a motionless Alice.

“I couldn’t move my arms or legs,” Alice said. “I knew I was in trouble.”

Doctors discovered the severity of Alice’s injury. She survived a hyperextension injury to her neck. She had 3 broken vertebrae in her neck and an incomplete spinal cord injury.

After surgery in Florida, Alice elected to come back to Michigan for therapy. She chose Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital.

When she checked in on February 21, she had very little movement. Nurses had to use a sling to get her in and out of bed. She was unable to dress herself or brush her teeth. Alice had always been very self-sufficient and it was devastating to lose her independence. She began therapy and worked to regain mobility.

“You can’t replace 7 days of therapy a week,” Alice said. “It was just what I needed.”

She was accustomed to daily exercise and was prepared for the intensity of therapy. She progressed little by little. First she learned to sit, then to stand, and, eventually, she learned to walk.

With the help of her therapists and the LokomatPro, a robotic technology that assists patients in walking, she was discharged from Mary Free Bed 7 weeks later with only a walker. Now, Alice uses a cane to maneuver her Lansing home.

She returned to Mary Free Bed for outpatient rehabilitation because of the staff and the facility.

“Mary Free Bed is just full of caring, supportive people,” Alice said, “I didn’t meet anyone who wasn’t encouraging or caring. They were always cheerful and willing to do what you needed, but they always pushed you.”

Alice picked up knitting and has caught up on her reading. She hopes to recover more and spend more time outside. She still focuses on her therapy and is diligent in her home exercises. With each new day, Alice is one step closer to independence.

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