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The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
of things unknown but longed for still
and his tune is heard on the distant hill
for the caged bird sings of freedom.

- Maya Angelou

Life can change in the blink of an eye. For Debbie Atkinson, that moment came Sept. 2, 2006. An accomplished equestrian, Atkinson, 49, was participating in the Kentucky Classic horse trials at Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.

She was competing in the open intermediate division, galloping on the cross-country course, achieving that adrenaline rush she loved. As she approached a jump, her horse, Melancholy Blues, caught his legs at the welding wall and somersaulted. Atkinson fell from the horse and landed on the ground. She lay motionless and unconscious. Emergency Medical Technicians immediately tended to her, starting intravenous fluids on the course while waiting for a medical transport helicopter to arrive.

Physicians at the University of Kentucky Medical Center in Lexington recognized the severity of her condition shortly after she arrived — a high C-2 spinal cord injury. They placed Atkinson on a mechanical ventilator to keep her alive, and they waited for the swelling in her spine and neck to go down. Within a few days, her prognosis became clear. Atkinson, beloved riding instructor and coach, renowned competitor, proprietor of her own boarding and training stable, was now a quadriplegic. She had no feeling in or the ability to move anything below her neck. She could not breathe on her own. Her life had changed in an instant.   continued>>

 

WRITTEN BY KATHY WHITNEY
ILLUSTRATION BY CHRIS MCALLISTER
   
     
   

Too young to decide

Tomorrow

     
 
 
 
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