February 23, 2013 was a beautiful weekend day like so many others for Kristin and myself. We met at the gym almost 20 years ago. I am reserve US Navy Special Forces, anyone who knows our personality type knows that we are hard charging, hardworking, hard living people. Special Force’s don’t do things small, we go big, put out or go home. Kristin was the only woman who could keep up with me, she became the love of my life.
A little over 2 years ago we moved in together after 15 years of off and on dating. We finally found our dream house last year, a small ranch property in Ramona. We brought our horses’ home from the boarding place. Our dogs love it here after living in condos for all their lives. Kristin then bought 5 egg laying chickens and a few fruit trees to add to the dream life. She calls our place Rancho De Los Caballos, Kristin believes it to be our “paradise”.
We decided on that fateful Saturday afternoon three months ago, after doing some back country skiing, to go on a trail ride with one of our new neighbors. We had done that many times before, it was wonderful to be able to ride out from our home and ride for miles of beautiful Ramona hills and countryside. We envision ourselves living the Cowboy life, on our ranch with our animals. Unfortunately, though we have at least one horse riding helmet in our possession, it wasn’t often worn. Though we do always wear our motorcycle helmets and mountain climbing helmets due to the inherit dangers involved.
On our way back to the ranch after a really nice ride, our neighbor wanted to let some steam out and run his horse, Kristin was having a good ride on her horse Kona so she went with him and then I joined. They took off up the hill then took a left turn back to our place. Kristin soon passed our neighbor and I lost sight of her, so I got my horse Charlie into a full gallop and ran up after my sweetie. No one knows exactly what happened except Kona and Kristin who has no memory of the accident, but when I came around the corner I saw Kona still running alone without Kristin. As I rode closer, I saw the love of my life, face down in a pool of blood…….OMG
I jumped off of Charlie and did a quick assessment. She was unresponsive. I gently moved her to her side and opened her airway. She began to cough blood and gasp for air. She began breathing. It was shallow, but consistent. Her eyes were open but looking in separate directions. She was not able to answer my questions for over 15 minutes. There was massive bleeding from her head, right nose and right ear. I took my shirt off and placed it under her neck for support. I placed strips of my pants under her head and her right ear to help control the bleeding. This seemed to be helpful in controlling the amount of bleeding. I’ve seen a lot of death in my life time, but this was my sweetie and though I was scared, I went into automatic mode like I have been trained to do. I took her vitals and scanned for any other abnormalities or broken bones – signs that I could tell the paramedics about when they arrived 28 minutes later. I yelled at our neighbor to call 911 in order to get advanced support. I carefully lifted Kristin’s head and did my best to wrap it and slow down the blood loss. I blew air into her face and asked her to stay conscious. I could feel her skull and the massive fractures in my hand. I could not allow myself to become emotional, I had to stay focused and help my Kristin stay conscious and with me.
“Stay with me Baby, talk to me.” I begged her to breathe. “What hurts?” I asked. She finally said “my head.”
I held her bloody, tender head in my hands. I was not holding a skull, I was holding what felt like a soft bag of broken glass. I must have been holding her brain as I felt the shards of scull. The blood would not stop, so I pulled out my pocket knife and cut off more of my pants and wrapped her some more.
It took about 28 minutes for first responders to get there, I just held Kristin in my arms and kept talking to her so that she would not leave me. “Breathe, baby, breathe,” I kept telling her as I blew into her face. I tried to give the paramedics her vitals, but they shoved me out of the way and did their own assessment.
She was still alive and that is all that mattered, they told me to say goodbye in case she did not make it to the hospital. They prepped her for the Life Flight people, who eventually arrived and loaded her into the helicopter 17 minutes later. They also gave me time to say goodbye, but I said “I will see you at the hospital”.
My baby went into surgery immediately. Her medical team, headed by Dr. Vrijesh Tantuwaya, MD (Dr. T) a Board Certified Neurosurgeon whose practice is in Poway, said “We see a lot of head injury from horseback riding. In this area horses are responsible for more head injury accidents than football.” At the hospital, I was also told to not get my hopes up. This was serious injury, a life changer. Dr T and his team explained that Kristin’s injury was one of the worst cases of head trauma that they had ever seen.
Kristin had feeding tubes and breathing tubes keeping her alive. I was now scared by the full impact of this awful event. I wondered if she would know or even recognize me if she makes it through. Thank God, she recognized me and even gave me a small kiss 70 hours later. My girl is strong, she is a fighter, and she is working very hard to get her life back.
Kristin was in Critical Care at Palomar Medical Center for six weeks, and then went to their Brain Injury Acute Rehab Center. There she began physical, occupational and speech therapy three to four hours a day. The tubes that had been keeping her alive were eventually removed. She started walking with assistance and eating in the dining room. The staff there helps me take care of her every need. They check her cranial pressure on a regular basis. Unfortunately, her pressures went up to unsafe levels and she had to go back to the hospital where Dr. T installed a shunt to drain fluids.
During that time, my work and life turned upside down due to the economy, an incredible number of bills and being laid off. Thankfully, I was rehired with a new company contracting for the Navy, so I do have the same job, but with a new company. I earn less now and Kristin’s benefits are a problem, but I have her on the Cobra option for medical insurance which costs me more than it did with the old company where she was covered as my dependant. I have work which I desperately need right now to pay for all of these bills and keep our ranch for my girl to come home to. I pray and thank GOD for what I have.
We had to jump through several hoops and petition the insurance company in order to get Kristin back into acute rehab where she and the team have established a wonderful relationship that is working. She has made incredible progress. After the shunt surgery, Kristin lost strength on her left side but her cranial pressures were good. She developed a bladder infection and was having trouble swallowing so she was put back on a liquid diet, which Kristin does not enjoy. They put her on an IV and a bypass feeding tube to maintain her weight, which is how she was fed when she first got hurt.
I asked her what the problem was, and my Kristin’s memory is good enough that she knows the kind of food she likes! She said she did not like hospital food. So I started bringing her things she likes to supplement what the hospital is giving her. She has had bites pizza with no crust, Eggs Benedict and Sausage McMuffin served with ice chips in small bites. She’s eating a little better. Even though food was a problem, it is so gratifying for all of us to know that her mind is working so well! In a week or so she will return to hospital for another surgery to install a skull cap to protect her brain.
After that she goes back to rehab or to a residential treatment center that specializes in brain injury patients. Eventually, she will come back to the home I’m working hard to keep as she left it. Kristin has a long road ahead, there will probably be a lot more therapy, more surgeries, and milestones to climb. Her memory seems intact, her speech is good. She has phone conversations with people. Her physical strength and skills are still a work in progress, but she’s putting in the time and effort.
I am still connected to the Navy as Special Operations Instructor. I love what I do. I’m gratified when my guys return from harm’s way. I have to keep my middle age self in tip top shape to stay up with these guys and I love it. Kristin puts up with me, which for a beautiful woman, is a big deal. We loved working out together, hiking, snow skiing, mountain climbing, scuba diving, country dancing, back packing, fishing and mountain biking. We’ve enjoyed riding our horses, our his and hers Harley motorcycles and horse camping with family and friends as often as possible.
My Kristin is a talented photographer. We planned to turn the top floor above the barn into her studio. She’s been taking gorgeous pictures for years while working in technical sales for an office supply company. My love and I were living our dream, a dream built together over many years. That was then, this is now. I hope we can still live our dream on some level in the future.
Kristin’s life is forever changed. So is mine. The doctors feel that a helmet would have helped. The injury is so severe, she might have needed a stop at the hospital after that kind of fall, but a helmet would have protected her head from the kind of trauma that she sustained. Live and learn. Now I am committed to tell this story and encourage everyone to remember that it only takes a minute to potentially change your life forever. Helmets can save lives, no doubt about that. That’s why we wear them in the Navy TEAMS.
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Read about Kristin’s Story in the Ramona Journal ›