Rider in hospital with broken neck gets visit from her beloved horse

  • A rider being treated in intensive care for a broken neck had her recovery boosted when she was visited by her horse.

    Keen riding club competitor Alvina Shiel suffered spinal injuries when she was thrown during a jumping lesson last month, and had been missing spending time with 18-year-old Troy, who she has owned for two years.

    Staff at Southmead Hospital in Bristol agreed to help and they were able to bring Alvina downstairs for a reunion in the A&E car park.

    “We’d spoken about bringing Troy to see her, originally just joking about it with the doctors,” said her daughter Shelley Sterckx. “But there were actually quite a few doctors and nurses on the ward who were horse owners and they realised how important it was for her.

    “It all fell into place and we were able to speak to the security team and get them to section off a bit of the car park so we could bring Troy over.”

    Although the pair had Facetimed the previous week, Shelley said her mum was continually asking how Troy was.

    “She’s so used to seeing him every day and doing him herself. He had such a sad look on his face not seeing her and Mum was sad as well,” Shelley said.

    The coloured cob was “absolutely amazing “ during his unusual visit, taking the unfamiliar sites, passing cars, ambulances and car park barriers in his stride.

    “He was so happy to see his mum and he knew it was an unusual situation,” Shelley added. “You couldn’t have asked for a better behaved horse.”

    North Bristol NHS Trust intensive care unit consultant Matt Thomas said staff thought it was “great” to be able to take Alvina out of the unit to see Troy.

    “This sort of visit really helps the physiological aspect of patients’ recovery,” he said.

    “You could see the impact it had on her straight away. It was great to see the change in her from the morning to being outside in the fresh air with her horse.

    “Her determination to one day ride again is fantastic in terms of her recovery. The people who are positive and have goals to aim for are often the ones who do well.”

    After four weeks in intensive care, 68-year-old Alvina was moved to a normal ward this week, and will later be transferred to a rehabilitation unit in Salisbury where she is likely to stay for three to nine months to continue her recovery.

    Alvina and Shelley are members of Tumpy Green Riding Club in Dursley and usually ride six days a week, trying their hand at most disciplines.

    “We’ve done dressage, showjumping, cross-country, one day events, we do fancy dress dressage, drill riding, mounted archery, polocrosse, literally everything!” Shelley said. “Mum signed up for Wobbleberries last year and she’d been taking things steady, building a bond with Troy and gradually building things up.

    “She’s really missing just being around the horses at the moment. She just wants to go and muck Troy out and push a wheelbarrow around.”

    Alvina has already impressed her doctors with her progress in the few weeks since her fall, regaining movement in her arms, toes and partially in her left leg.

    “The day after it happened, the surgeon said she would never walk again, which was a huge blow,” Shelley said. “Initially she didn’t have any feeling from her elbows down but now she can move her arms quite freely, although not so much her fingers at the moment. There have been some really promising signs.

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    “We don’t know what the outcome will be but she’s certainly determined — more about riding again than walking. She said if she could just get movement back on her fingers she’d be a lot happier as then she could hold the reins.”

    Shelley was sharing a lesson with her mum when the accident happened, and said after witnessing the fall, she would urge riders to make sure their safety equipment gives them as much protection as possible.

    She explained how the serious accident stemmed from a fairly innocuous fall when her mum had not got quite the right angle of approach to a fence.

    “As she came into the fence, which was angled across the middle of the arena, I thought ‘oh no, she’s not got the right line’, Shelley explained. “Troy was faced with the wing and stopped — not a dirty stop but he had nowhere to go and Mum went over his head. Normally you land on your lower back or bum but for some reason her head was tucked in and she landed on the back of her head on a jump — she’s had much worse falls in the past.

    “Three months previously she had a bad fall that looked far worse than this one but apart from bruising she was fine — since then she has always ridden wearing a body protector but I was really surprised to learn afterwards that it didn’t do anything to protect the neck or spinal column,” she cautioned. “It’s worth doing your research.”

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