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Missouri teen returns to horseback riding after car accident

January 4, 2019

CARTHAGE, Mo. (AP) — For the first time in six months, Sami Bayless mounted her horse, a moment she thought she’d never experience again.

“It was amazing because in my mind, what I had focused my whole life on was over,” she said. “I forgot how hard it was to ride a horse, and it was different this time because my legs weren’t as strong. It was exhausting but worth it.”

Exhausting and difficult because Bayless, an 18-year-old from Lockwood, has spent the past six months hundreds of miles from her horse at a hospital in Denver, recovering from a June car accident that left her with injuries to her spine and legs. Injuries included a 1.5-inch laceration on the forehead; broken femur, tibia and fibula in the left leg; broken kneecap and femur fracture in the right leg; vertebrae fractures; and spinal cord damage.

She underwent 15 surgeries — many of those all in one month — and faced complications along the way. She encountered frequent blood clots, and at one point she received 23 units of blood in a 48-hour period.

“It got pretty scary there at times,” Charity Bayless, Sami’s mother, told the Joplin Globe . “It was quite the roller-coaster ride.”

The medical roller-coaster ride would eventually return to its loading platform, when Sami Bayless was cleared to begin physical therapy in September. She was staring down a long and winding road, one that led to the ability to walk again.

Last month, Sami returned home to the surprise of her friends and family. One of the first stops was to visit her grandmother, Marilyn Baugh, the outgoing Jasper County clerk who recently celebrated her retirement at the courthouse in Carthage.

There were many times when Bayless was ready to call it quits. Lying in bed waiting patiently for the body to heal is no easy task for an otherwise active teenager, one who has spent her life on horses competing in rodeos in both the Missouri Family Rodeo Association and the Missouri Junior Rodeo Circuit.

The initial recovery was difficult, and she felt trapped. Her body rejected food, even though she was hungry all the time.

“I was scared to get better because every time I got better, something would happen, and I would crash and burn,” she said. “At one point, I lost all hope. I was depressed.”

Throughout the recovery, the Bayless family has faced logistical and financial hurdles. Charity Bayless lost her job as she stayed in Denver, while her husband stayed home to work and care for the rest of the children. They’ve all handled it in stride.

“We take it day by day, and my kids have all stepped up to the plate big time,” Charity Bayless said. “The journey has taught the kids to enjoy the little things and enjoy the time you have with those around you because you never know when that’s going to be taken away.”

An outpouring of love from the community helped Sami Bayless and her family forge onward. Individuals and groups came together to hold fundraisers, from custom-candle sales to pancake breakfasts, for Sami over the summer.

“Without the support of the communities, we would sink,” Charity Bayless said. “The support helped relieve some worries; I didn’t have to worry about how I was going to live for six months. They were our fuel on days that we felt like we couldn’t go any more.”

All of the letters from friends and family helped, too.

“Every time I got mail, it reminded me that people cared,” Sami Bayless said. “I was loved, even if I didn’t feel like it.”

The extent of Bayless’ injuries should have left her with little to no function at all. Today, she can walk 500 feet with assistance and is focusing on balance and endurance in her physical therapy.

Her days are packed from sunrise to sunset as she works to regain mobility — first weightlifting, then occupational therapy, then a support group, then recreational therapy, then lunch, then physical therapy, then another round of weightlifting and finally a wheelchair class. Every hour, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., is filled.

“Hopefully after balance and endurance improves, I can start walking without assistance,” Bayless said. “I like physical therapy because it gives me something to do. Of course, there are days when I want to nap.”

The family has remained hopeful along the journey, leaning on their faith to get them through difficult times.

“Based upon her injuries, she shouldn’t have hand function, arm function, the balance she has, and that’s by the grace of God and the blessings that have been bestowed upon her that she has that, let alone the leg function,” Charity Bayless said. “Just because paper says one thing, you can’t ever give up.”

A recent X-ray showed bone regeneration in Sami’s legs, a good sign that she won’t require another surgery. She and her mother will return to Denver on Jan. 5 to continue therapy.

But before that, she entered Lucky J Arena for a Barrel Bash, where she walked her horse around the pattern and marked a return to the sport she loves.

“It will never be the same, but that’s OK because at least I can still do it,” Bayless said. “I think it’s going to be a start to something new.”

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Information from: The Joplin (Mo.) Globe, http://www.joplinglobe.com

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