My Longest Fall: Moving Forward After a Traumatic Brain Injury

BY AMBASSADOR JULIA FISCHER

Nearly all of us have fallen off a horse. The average fall usually consists of dusting ourselves off, and hopping back on. However, there is always the exceptional fall that leaves us unable to get right back up – a longer fall. A fall where we were unable to dust ourselves off immediately or get right back on the horse. A fall where we have spent the longest time in the sand, not able to return to riding the next day. I recently had my own “longest fall” and had over four months off my horse, Amedeo.

Riding is continuously listed in the top most dangerous sports, with an abundance of injuries. Roughly 20% of these injuries affect the central nervous system, meaning the brain and spinal cord. Nonetheless, equestrians are brave enough to continue riding around 6 days a week while simultaneously posting pictures on social media of their cute horses.

My longest fall recently happened in early August, a week before the beginning of school. My memory about this day is limited to what my family told me, as I have no recollection of the day, other than the plethora of stories my parents can tell.

Amedeo and Julia shortly after her fall

I was in the middle of a lesson when I made a mistake.  My horse crashed through a fence and I flipped underneath him. I got kicked in the head and shoulder, and was left unconsciousness with a loss of breath and memory. Fortunately, my parents were there that day, and my father jumped over the arena fence to my side as well as my trainer, while my mother called 911.

After arriving at the hospital, I was diagnosed with a Grade 3 concussion and a traumatic brain injury due to the severity of impact. For the rest of the day, my memory looped around four questions:

Was it a car crash or did I fall? 

Is Amedeo okay?

When does school start?

Have I finished my summer homework?

I forgot everything centered around my life the week before.

The month after I would be extremely sensitive to noise, light, and smells, as well as not being able to speak coherently or express my thoughts and feelings to my family. I dropped out of my IB school classes and reduced my entire school schedule; thus, changing my entire schedule for school and selecting future colleges. I could no longer remember or identify family and friends, as well as forget many of my memories from years before. My food preferences were affected where I can no longer stand foods such as peanut butter, meat, and dairy to the point that I now vegan. I would later find out that a large part of the frontal lobe of my brain would completely shut down without warning affecting my personality, decisions, memories, and the speed at which I am able to process information.

I still continue to struggle, and will for the majority of my life, as I now have symptoms that may never disappear. For the remaining part of my life, I will continue to be challenged by my sensitivity to lighting, noise, the ability to retain memories, and being able to search for words consistently.

Julia’s first ride since her accident 126 days before

I have recently begun riding again by starting small with the goal to work up to where I was able to be before. This experience has opened my eyes to the seriousness of our sport and concussions. Obviously, we know the risks when mounting a horse, but we never think an accident like mine could happen to us. Luckily I was wearing my helmet, as I always do. It truly saved my life.  I implore those who do not continue to use one…wear one! Helmets have saved lives and prevented injuries, and I know that without mine, I would not be here today.