Phillip Dutton says his family can see a “light at the end of the tunnel”, seven months after his stepdaughter suffered a serious brain injury in a riding fall.
The US event rider said 23-year-old Lee Lee is due to leave Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital, Pennsylvania, at the end of this month.
In an update posted on his website, Phillip said Lee Lee is eating and has started to speak a few words.
“Her use of her arms, hands and legs and her general mobility is gradually improving. We are very fortunate to have such an incredibly talented and caring staff at Bryn Mawr that work with her daily,” he wrote.
“Lee Lee is very aware of the challenges she faces, but is applying the same grit and determination that took her through honors at university and to grad school and made her the rider she is. She is very committed and works extremely hard every day in her therapy sessions, which has impressed everyone.
“Due to the severity and type of brain injury Lee Lee sustained, the opinion of her doctors and our hope is that this slow but steady improvement will continue for quite a few years.”
Lee Lee, who has evented internationally up to one-star level, was riding at the family’s Pennsylvania base when the accident happened just before Christmas last year. The university student was cantering on the exercise track when the horse she was riding bucked and slipped over. She was wearing a safety helmet but sustained a serious brain injury.
“We have tried to learn as much from Lee Lee’s fall as possible to be able to prevent someone else from experiencing this terrible tragedy,” Phillip’s statement reads. “Lee Lee’s helmet is at a testing laboratory in the UK thanks to Roy Burek of Charles Owen. We hope to hear some results of the tests in the near future and will certainly share our findings.”
Philip added that the family has been making changes such as wheelchair access renovations at home and looking into the support Lee Lee will need after her return. A GoFundMe page set up by a family friend has already raised $20,000 (£15,000) towards her future care.
He thanked his wife Evie and Lee Lee’s dad Richie and boyfriend Kareem for their “amazing job of staying by Lee Lee’s side day in and day out”, as well as thanking well-wishers for their support since the accident.
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He wrote: “I am a believer in the power of positive thinking, so please continue to keep Lee Lee in your thoughts and prayers. I know it helps!
“There is a light at the end of the tunnel and we try to take one day at a time. Evie and I can’t thank you all enough for your support. There are not enough words to express how grateful and appreciative we are.”