Show jumper Cassandra Kahle, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a fall two months ago, has transitioned out of a wheelchair and now is walking again with the assistance of a walker, her mother Natasha Brash said.
“She’s eating on her own; she’s starting to get dressed on her own, walking with a walker,” Brash said April 1. “We just got the walker on Monday, and so we gave back the wheelchair today, which was really exciting. We don’t have to do that again.”
Kahle suffered from a Grade 3 diffuse axonal injury—a severe traumatic brain injury—after falling from a horse on Jan. 29 during HITS Ocala January Festival II (Florida). She regained consciousness on Feb. 8 at University of Florida Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville and has since moved to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, which specializes in treatment and rehabilitation of brain and spine injuries. Following throat surgery to repair some scar tissue in her trachea, most likely caused from a breathing tube administered in the aftermath of her fall, Kahle received the OK to enter the hospital’s Shepherd Pathways program.
This green light, Brash said, allows the two of them to live more normally in an apartment linked to the hospital.
“It’s not quite an outpatient program because [in] an outpatient program, you could possibly be living at home,” Brash said. “We’re really close to the hospital. She still has a [tracheostomy tube] in her throat, so, that’s not scheduled to come out until close to the end of April. Because of that, they have this apartment housing. It backs up besides the hospital; there’s a little pathway that takes it from the hospital to the apartments. So, we’re in one of the apartments. It gives us a chance to actually live outside the hospital. We don’t have the constant nurses and doctors coming in our room and checking in on us.”
Brash explained that Kahle’s injury affected all three main parts of her brain. While she didn’t break any bones and didn’t damage her spinal cord, she’s having to relearn her motor and speech skills.
“When the brain is damaged in traumatic brain injury, everything shuts down,” Brash said. “It’s like learning how to walk again, learning how to talk, learning how to swallow. It’s crazy. It’s funny how we take for granted getting up in the morning and jumping in the shower and just getting in the car and driving off to work. We don’t even think about that as being a privilege.”
Brash said of her daughter, “she’s hustling,” as she’s working to figure out the walker and improve her speech.
“She has to think a lot about what she’s trying to say, but she’s super with it,” Brash said. “When we’re talking and stuff, she is the same person she was, just her body and her speech aren’t real solid in the way that she would like it to be. She’s like, ‘Ah things are still so slow,’ and I’m like, ‘It’s OK. Things are getting better.’ ”
When not at physical, occupational or speech therapy—which she does every morning from 8:30 to about noon—Kahle exercises her brain with puzzles, Yahtzee, coloring and cognition games on an iPad, and also goes on walks and helps Brash with household tasks like doing the dishes.
Doctors say that Kahle should be able to move to outpatient care in about a month. That means she can return home to either Ocala, Florida, or Califon, New Jersey, where her job at Redfield Farm is located. There she’ll continue physical therapy, with the hopes of perhaps driving in six months. For her own safety, doctors are saying she shouldn’t ride for a year.
“She’s exceeding all the expectations,” Brash said. “Definitely above normal in her responses to all the treatment.”
Liz McFadden, a friend and former Redfield Farm client, set up a GoFundMe page for Kahle’s medical expenses and has raised over $150,000.
“We just want to say thanks to the horse community,” Brash said. “They have been unbelievable. Just unreal. People are sending cards that say, ‘You don’t know me but…’
“I think when something like this happens, it’s humbling. You realize all the little things that you take for granted that actually do make a difference,” she added. “I would just say, be nice to each other; enjoy each other; enjoy life; take the time to be with each other and do great things. Be bold; don’t hold back. Life’s short. Things can change in a heartbeat.”