Almost two weeks after Irish Olympian Kevin Babington fell at the Hampton Classic Horse Show (New York) and injured his spinal cord, he remains at New York University Langone Medical Center in Manhattan as doctors and his family look toward the next step. Following his surgery on Sept. 3, Babington contracted pneumonia, which isn’t uncommon for individuals after they have been intubated. While they work to get him stable, his team is looking at a stem cell trial.
Though he is alert and able to mouth words—the tracheotomy does hinder his speaking—his sister-in-law Daun Imperatore reported he is currently unable to move.
“There was no break. There was no sever. It’s in the C3 and C4 area. [The spinal cord] was almost stretched, they think, and he hit it when he fell,” said Imperatore. “So when he fell back, they figured that when he landed, the impact was when his neck was extended. So what there was was trauma inside the spinal column itself, like a hematoma. There’s this bleeding in there; that’s the best way to explain it. The more we’ve done some research, it seems that the more trauma that stays in there, and swelling, the more good cells or nerve endings are affected. The goal is to try to mitigate the swelling as much as possible initially. And we did everything we thought possible.”
Prior to surgery, doctors gave Babington steroids to reduce swelling. They also did a procedure where they drop the body’s temperature, which can aid in decreasing swelling.
“At this point, there’s not much more we can do,” said Imperatore. “Physical therapy might help. So it’s how the body recovers and the swelling goes down. We keep hanging on to stories of people who have had a similar injury or something even worse in the same area, because spinal injuries all depend on where it happens. So it’s all like a wait and see. I think everybody’s body, how it heals, is different.
“He knew right away he was in trouble. He knew immediately. He said that he couldn’t feel his legs and his arms,” she continued. “But he has remained positive. If he’s terrified, he has not said so.”
Doctors hope that Babington’s active lifestyle and determined attitude will help him in his recovery as the prognosis is unknown at this point.
“We’re just taking it day by day, week by week, month by month to see where he’s at and not making any huge decisions until we see,” said Imperatore. “We just want to remain positive, and we’re hopeful, as one surgeon said, he’s not an average person anyways. He’s a champion, and he’s got a champion’s attitude. He’s also an athlete; he’s in shape; he’s heathy. There was no tear. It wasn’t severed. It wasn’t broken. These are all positive. There was damage in a critical area, and there’s swelling, and the swelling will determine what survives, so it can go either way. We’re leaning towards being very hopeful just knowing that attitude can be a large part of it. They started some physical therapy before he had pneumonia, and they said he was pushing himself more than they were asking of him. And I’m not surprised. He’s always pushed himself. He’s always worked hard. I think as long as he knows there’s hope, he said he’s just going to stay positive.
“Friends that saw him yesterday said that he was upbeat, and he said, ‘You know, I’m a horse trainer, and I will be a horse trainer again,’ ” she continued.
As doctors work towards ridding Babington’s body of pneumonia, his family hopes that stem cell treatment could be the next step in the positive direction for Babington if he qualifies for the trials.
In the days since his fall, the horse community has taken its own steps to support Babington. People have rallied behind him by buying his Babington Mills feed and bedding products, as well as donating to a Facebook fundraiser and GoFundMe page.
Maarten Huygens Horse Sales donated 9-year-old mare Fairytale to The Ten auction, where all the money will go to Babington. Coolmore Stud Ireland will be donating a “no guarantee nomination” of their champion stallion Gleneagles. Shows have also taken part, with Split Rock Jumping Tour donating $10,000 worth of entries fees and Blenheim EquiSports promising to donate $5 for every chip they receive in their Chip In for Charity program to the Kevin Babington Rehabilitation Fund, with the Wasserman Foundation matching each donation at Blenheim.
While Babington has a thriving business and medical insurance, these donations will help the family with uncovered costs such as the stem cell treatment if it is a viable option.
“People are rallying, and it’s absolutely unbelievable. It’s just really, really unbelievable, and the gratitude couldn’t even be expressed with words,” said Imperatore. “People were teasing him yesterday, saying, ‘We didn’t know you were this loved.’ And he said, ‘I didn’t either!’ He was laughing. He’s really a very humble person.”