Eight days in a coma. Three weeks in a hospital. 17 days in a rehabilitation facility followed by four weeks in out-patient therapy. Jamie Cohen knows she's lucky to be alive. Even luckier to be able to get back on her 6-year-old Thoroughbred mare Tess.Eight days in a coma. Three weeks in a hospital. 17 days in a rehabilitation facility followed by four weeks in out-patient therapy. Jamie Cohen knows she's lucky to be alive. Even luckier to be able to get back on her 6-year-old Thoroughbred mare Tess.
Eight days in a coma. Three weeks in a hospital. 17 days in a rehabilitation facility followed by four weeks in out-patient therapy. Jamie Cohen knows she’s lucky to be alive. Even luckier to be able to get back on her 6-year-old Thoroughbred mare Tess.
"I got my lottery ticket. I cashed it in. It wasn’t money, but I guess it was better," Cohen said, repeating that she "got big, big time lucky … so lucky you can’t even imagine" during the riding accident that almost took her life.
Amy Hendrix, co-owner of Green Acres in Reddick, Fla., filled in the missing pieces.
"It was about 5:30 (p.m.) — she was probably still in her initial walk and warmup — and Branchard (Tucker, farm co-owner) said Tess is running around loose … Jamie was unconscious on the ground but she kept moving her right leg as though she was trying to get off the horse. It’s like that’s the last thought that went through her brain," Hendrix said. "We just tried to keep her still. She still had movement which we thought was a very good sign.
"The paramedics got here and they took off the helmet and had one of us check it … the palm of my hand went through the back of the helmet," she continued. "We found grass in the pommel of the saddle. We’re assuming that the horse flipped over but we don’t know for sure because nobody saw it." Though Tess is the only one who knows what happened that day in the cross country field, Cohen and Hendrix have opted for separate scenarios. Cohen said she’s convinced Tess simply tripped and fell. "That’s what makes sense to me, and that’s what I’m going to live with. I truly in my heart of hearts believe she wasn’t being naughty. It was just a mistake," Cohen insisted. "I know that horse like I know my back hand. She is a bucker, but I know that horse and … NO. No matter what happened or how it happened, it was an accident. I know that. I believe that."
Having spent time with Tess the following day, Hendrix believes that fateful 15 minutes of Cohen’s ride went differently. "I think (Tess) was in probably a painful heat the way she acted," she recalled. "It took me 20 minutes to walk that mare (from the pasture to where the vet was waiting), which usually takes about 5 minutes. She just kept kicking and trying to nail the other mares.
"We’ve got geldings out in the field she was riding and I think one of them got a whiff and started following her and it just set off a domino board. I don’t think Jamie even had a chance."
"I must have landed right on my head. That’s what my doctor said. I got lucky I didn’t break my neck," Cohen said. "There’s a little space between your brain and your skull so when it hit on the left side of my head, it made my brain smash up to the right side of my head so I had hemorrhaging on the right side of my head. … In addition to the hemorrhaging, it was severly bruised."
Miraculously, Cohen noted she had "a couple of little scrapes and that was it. Not a bruise." And while Cohen said she always wears a helmet, the one she was wearing at the time was an less inexpensive, unapproved version and unable to withstand the pressure on impact.
"My hat saved my life but it also broke into," she continued. "It wasn’t in pieces because the velvet held it together, but basically you could just push on it and push it in. If I had had a better hat … that’s like drawing straws. I apologize to the ASTM-SEI, but they’re big and unattractive and that’s why I would never wear one. Now, you know what, I wear one."
Understanding Cohen’s unquestionable love for her horse, Green Acres’ trainer Bess Darrow snapped a head shot of Tess grazing the night of the accident and had it enlarged to an 8×10. But Cohen confided that her mother failed to understand the photo’s importance to her rehabilitation. "She was like, ‘You don’t need to bring that to rehab,’ and I said, ‘That’s coming to rehab.’ And then when I was leaving rehab, I was going home … because I was in out-patient therapy for a month, and she said, ‘You can just leave that here,’ and I said, ‘No, that’s coming home.’ The picture of my horse was a big deal to me," Cohen recalled. "I had to have that picture with me. I honestly remember looking at that picture everyday and wanting to get back to seeing my horse."
While in the head injury program at a HealthSouth clinic in Pennsylvania, Cohen’s spirit and determination remarkably never faultered. Though many head injury patients suffer from depression, Cohen played the role of Patch Adams to her rehab roommates.
"I knew I was different than I used to be but that was okay. … I used to think of rehab like, ‘Well, this is my job. This is what I’m doing.’ What else was I going to do?" Cohen said. "It’s kind of bad to say that I’m pigheaded, but I think my pigheadedness saved me in a lot of ways," Cohen added. "I can remember buttoning my shirt, and I couldn’t button because my left hand wouldn’t work. I can remember literally sitting buttoning until I figured out how to button because I was like, ‘I used to be able to do this. I’m going to do this.’"
As a testament to Cohen’s emotional strength, she insisted the riding accident from which she continues to recover may have been a blessing. "I hate to say it but sometimes you need a little smack in the face to straighten you out," she admitted. "I think it was a good thing for me. Maybe some negative things came out of it but so many positive things came out of it and I’ve been so incredibly lucky that if I don’t appreciate it and I don’t get something positive out of it, well, the fault is mine. It never occurred to me to look at it any other way.
"You can either make the best of it or make the worst of it. The cup is either half-empty or half-full. The choice is yours," Cohen said. "I don’t want to live my life with my cup being half-empty. My cup is half-full and in a lot of ways it’s more full now. I just have a better attitude and a better opinion about things and about life in general. To almost die and realize that, it makes you a different person."
For Cohen, the most important change in her life since the accident has been her attitude toward Tess, who she visits most everyday and spoils with an endless supply of treats.
"I’ve made peace with her. She can be tough but I’ve relearned how to ride her so that I make her happy," Cohen said. "I wanted my horse to be a certain way and she’s not going to be that way … now what I want for her is to be the best she can be. Now I try to meet her halfway and honestly, I’m getting along with her now 100 times better than I use to." Though Cohen began riding again last September, she admitted that her family would be happy if she kept both feet on the ground from now on. "My family, they’re non-horse people, and they would have been happy if I got rid of my horse and didn’t ride again. I guess at one point I told my mother that I needed to sell my horse but I obviously didn’t think clearly at that point.
Cohen took to heart the well-known philosophy of when you fall off, climb right back in the saddle. "I think in order to get back on the horse you have to say to yourself, ‘This is going to happen again,’ she said. "I will say that I think, ‘If you fall off again, you need to tuck and roll, dumb dumb.’ Other than that, what are you going to do? I try to be safe. I try to be careful, but I always tried to be safe and I always tried to be careful," she insisted. "Do I do things more safely and more carefully? Yes, I do. (Falling off) is going to happen and I hope it doesn’t happen anytime soon … and that’s as much as I like to think about it. I think if you dwell on it, it’ll eat you up." The accident not only gave Cohen a new perspective on life but it also gave her a new excuse to use when things don’t go her way. "Hey, I have brain damage, you know," Cohen can often be heard joking in the barn. "I like to use the brain damage excuse, but nobody’s buying it anymore," she said, laughing. "I earned it, and I’m going to use it."