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Kirkland girl kicked in the head by a horse takes back her life
After more than 40 days of recovering from a traumatic brain injury, Alexa Clark, 11, is ready to begin her first year at Kirkland Middle School.
A horse kicked Alexa in the head during the last days of summer vacation as she prepared for a big horse show in Montana. The injury left her unconscious with brain surgery in her future.
Now, after numerous acts of love and support from the Kirkland community, her positive upbeat attitude and doctor-pronounced miracles along her recovery, the soon-to-be 12-year-old is ready to take back her life.
“She’s surprisingly super excited to go back to school,” said Lacey Clark, Alexa’s mother, adding she’ll attend school part-time at first.
But the outcome hasn’t always looked so positive.
On Aug. 29, Alexa was visiting her grandparents in Victor, Mont. to spend time with them and ride their pony. She was also preparing for the Montana Hunter Jumper Association horse show at Rebecca Farms in Montana. Alexa has been showing horses for about five years and has earned several awards, including the 2013 Junior Montana Hunter Jumper Sportsmanship Award by the competition.
On the evening of the accident, Alexa and her adult friend checked a horse before they went riding in preparation for her competition. Her friend checked the bridle and Alexa checked the girth but all of a sudden her friend heard a squeal and Alexa was on the ground.
An ambulance was there within minutes and she was helicoptered to a hospital in Missoula within an hour.
Meanwhile, Lacey Clark and her ex-husband Jim Clark, Alexa’s father, were driving to Montana when they got a phone call no parent ever wants to receive.
“I don’t know how to describe how it is to find out your child might not live,” Lacey Clark said.
The two were just outside of Spokane, and by the time they arrived, they knew it was bad. The hospital in Missoula was without neurosurgeons so Alexa was airlifted to Sacred Heart, a hospital in Spokane.
After the helicopter arrived at 11 p.m., doctors discovered the pressure on Alexa’s brain was extremely high and she was rushed into emergency brain surgery.
Alexa came out of surgery in an induced coma at around 3 a.m. with part of her skull missing and some brain damage.
It was the start of sleepless nights at the hospital and continuous worry for her family and friends.
After the accident, Lacey Clark spent 30 consecutive days living in the hospital in Spokane.
Her father commuted back and forth from Spokane so that he could continue to work after the first two weeks.
“For the first week, they never said that she was going to live. It was ‘if’ she lives,” Lacey Clark said. “It was very much touch and go.”
Alexa’s lung collapsed at one point and her brain pressure was constantly up and down.
Her mother said it was a solid week before they had any hope that she might even live, let alone have a quality life to live. However, after about 10 days her health began to improve.
Lacey Clark attributes it to her daughter’s medical care but also to the homeopathic medicine called Arnica. With doctor approval, she gave Alexa Arnica the first night after her surgery.
“I think it made a huge difference,” she said, adding a family practitioner recommended it. “Her bruising went down, went away.”
Arnica is a perennial herb that has a number of uses, including aiding infections and inflammation.
Throughout Alexa’s recovery, her parents blogged on www.CaringBridge.org, a website dedicated to keeping families in the loop during health-related events.
One evening when Alexa was heavily sedated from her induced coma, her family started a group prayer after a friend suggested it. When the group prayer started, she “over breathed” her ventilator, giving her family even more hope.
“I asked her if she could squeeze my hand, which she did multiple times, and her legs started shaking, her eyelids were fluttering and I strongly felt her saying ‘I want to wake up mom, why can’t I wake up?’” Lacey Clark wrote on the Caring Bridge blog on Sept. 5.
Alexa started the process of waking up, coming out of her induced coma and detoxing around Sept. 10.
During the following days doctors reassured her family that she was “still in there.”
And it only got better from there.
“Before today my most intense and emotional moment of being a parent was the first time I held Alexa, looked into her eyes and we recognized each other as mother and child,” Lacey Clark wrote on Sept. 12. “Today, my baby - who almost left us a few short days ago - reached for me, clumsily put her arms around my neck and sweetly kissed my cheek. As tears streamed down my face I felt a deep, profound sense of gratitude. We are no longer waiting … We are now experiencing with awe and wonder.”
Soon after, support from Kirkland students came flooding.
A Peter Kirk Elementary teacher drove to Spokane to deliver cards from elementary students and a book of notes and get-well cards from Kirkland Middle School students. There was even a care package filled with food, magazines and books.
But one of the most touching letters was addressed to Lacey Clark, mother to mother.
The letter was from Carol Jensen, the mother of Kelsey Jensen who created Kid’s Corner at Peter Kirk Elementary. The name was later changed to Kelsey’s Corner in memory of Kelsey who, too, suffered from brain trauma but died December 2012.
Alexa was a member of Kelsey’s Corner, which consisted of a group of children who spent time during recess playing with kids who might not have something or someone to play with.
“She let me know that she had been following Caring Bridge posts and how reading about Alexa’s [inter cranial pressures] made her stomach churn,” Lacey Clark wrote. “She reminded me to be appreciative of Alexa’s responses because they never received responses from their daughter.”
Lacey Clark said before reading the letter, she was growing more concerned about Alexa’s future.
“I was wondering about the first time she looks in the mirror and realizes that her head is shaved and what it will be like once she goes back to school,” Lacey Clark said. “Will kids be nice to her? Will she ever be able to ride horses again, what if her right eye doesn’t start tracking, will her speech be affected?”
But Lacey Clark said Jensen’s letter humbly reminded her to be present and “immensely thankful.”
As Alexa had pivotal moments in her recovery - getting out of her wheelchair on Sept. 17, plenty of jokes with her doctors, discovering she was able to read and write and a surprise visit from Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson after her move to Seattle Children’s Hospital on Sept. 25 - her mother also describes her own experience.
“For me, I’ve noticed a really increased ability to be present,” Lacey Clark said. “That’s where I found my sanity. When I wanted to think about the future, I just kept coming back to the present moment. She’s still alive - for me, that felt like sanity.”
As she experienced the ability to be present, she also felt great compassion and understanding for others.
Alexa’s accident and recovery has also put life in perspective for Jim Clark.
On Oct. 8, her father wrote a Caring Bridge blog post about how he ran out of gas on the State Route 520 bridge during rush hour traffic on his way to visit his daughter. But instead of being upset, he “just laughed about the whole situation.”
“After what Alexa and all of us have been through the past 45 days, running out of gas in the middle of the bridge did not seem like that big of a deal,” Jim Clark wrote. “Don’t sweat the small stuff, right? When I finally got to the hospital and told Alexa why I was late, she said, ‘Gosh dad, I thought it was me who has the scrambled brains.’”
Although Alexa has come so far, she is still working on her balance when walking, her short-term memory and her right eye’s nerve is still damaged.
Her mother continues to treat her with homeopathy to reduce some brain fluid, which may require a shunt if it doesn’t improve.
“In general, she has a really positive attitude,” Lacey Clark said. “She gets sad sometimes because she wonders why it happened to her. Once in a while she gets down by the fact that her head is shaved and her eye [is not tracking] but she understands she could have died. But she’s happy she didn’t and she’s making the most out of it.”
Alexa will need to wear a helmet 100 percent of the time during the day until the missing part of her skull is replaced in four to six months, another surgery.
Eventually, she hopes to get back on the horse, literally, but will need to wait at least a year to do any kind of sports, including horse riding.
“Quite frankly, I was hoping that wouldn’t be the case,” Lacey Clark laughs. “But we’re going to support her in what she wants to do. A lot of people do dangerous sports and get hurt, and they get through it.”
As Alexa continues to heal through a Bellevue outpatient treatment program, Lacey Clark reflects on the last few months:
“I feel so much more conscious of the fact that life is fragile,” she said. “Make time to do the things with your kids you don’t think you have time to do because you might not be able to do them tomorrow.”
To follow Alexa’s journey, visit www.caringbridge.com/visit/AlexaClark/journal.