Making it home for Christmas: Camp Crook’s Comes dealing with horse injury
Carroll Comes didn’t know what happened for sure on Oct. 22. She went from riding along on her three-year-old colt to waking up in excruciating pain, choking on her own blood. Her friend who had been riding with her had acted quickly and rolled her to her side, stabilizing Carroll and, likely, saving her life, before running for help. Carroll knew instantly that she had broken her back and that she couldn’t feel her legs.
They are still unsure of what spooked the colt or what he had reacted to. Carroll’s friend Jana had lost control of her own horse for a minute, but she had regained control, whereas Carroll’s horse reared up, hit Carroll in the face, then flipped over on her, hyperextending her spine. Her T8 vertabrae shattered and pierced the spinal cord but didn’t separate it.
She is currently at Craig Institute in Colorado where she will remain up until a few days before Christmas. Doctors fused her spine from T5 to T11 and inserted a titanium cage to take the place of the obliterated T8. Returning home for the holidays is her focus and her goal.
Carroll is learning to be as independent as possible, while her husband Mark diligently rebuilds their home bathroom and moves their bedroom to the main floor, in between being mom and dad and working the family ranch at the farthest northwest corner of South Dakota, while being short a hand, Carroll.
“I have fallen in love with him all over again. I can’t even begin to explain. Through this, he’s shown a side I’ve never know of him,” Carroll said. “When it comes to it, this man is made of gold.”
Mark had said, at one point in Carroll’s physical therapy, “Give me a wheelchair. I want to do it. I want to know what she’s going through.”
Carroll said she can see the strain on his face from temporarily single-parenting their three daughters Samantha, 16, Emily, 14, and Addisyn, 11. She said when she thinks of her girls, her strength is renewed.
“I want my daughters to know that not everything is going to go our way, but that doesn’t mean you throw your sucker in the dirt and blame God,” Carroll said. “Your purpose might change a little bit, but it will be ok. As a family, we can get through anything. If this makes them stronger as women, as mothers, then ok. It’s worth it.”
Their youngest, Addisyn, doesn’t quite grasp that her mom will be coming home in a wheelchair and won’t be walking in the near future, but that doesn’t mean Carroll needs to constantly rely on others.
“I’m so independent,” said the 40-year-old. “I’m learning everyday. Today, I’m completely exhausted, but every day I’m getting stronger physically, mentally. It’s four weeks until my discharge day, and that is exciting yet terrifying.”
Upon first arriving at Craig, after spending two weeks in post surgery at Fargo, Dr. Berliner asked her what her biggest goal was; she quickly responded that she wanted to be home for Christmas. He replied with a head tilt and a look of sadness, and told her that it was a fine goal, but maybe a bit unachievable.
After a week at Craig, Dr. B came into her room and told her he was going to sing her a song and belted out I’ll be home for Christmas. Since then, Carroll has learned to operate a wheelchair—after trying several models for the best fit—including getting up and down thresholds in varying houses, how to get on and off the commode, in and out of bed, and to cath herself, something that was very important for her independence.
“We are all in shock, but she, even from the first day it happened, was willing to do whatever she needed to be independent. None of us are giving up hope that she can walk again,” said her sister-in-law Cathy Richter. “She is the one here doing the work and keeping a positive attitude. I see all the struggles she is having that I never even thought of. My heart breaks for her, but she does it with such ease and never has a bad attitude.”
Carroll has, admittedly, had a few down days while learning skills that most of us take for granted. One of her days with the most mixed emotions was thinking back to just a few hours before her accident. She had started the day riding her “once-in-a-lifetime” horse to move cows, and she had snapped a few photos of pretty scenery during the ride. Her friend Jana—the same friend who helped her survive later in the day—grabbed her phone and took a few photos of Carroll and her heart horse. While at Craig during a moment of rare down time, she scrolled through her phone thinking back on that eventful day that flipped her life upside down.
“Have you ever seen that old photo of a cowboy, and it says, ‘Dear Jesus, please don’t ever let me know when it’s going to be the last time when I’m on a horse.’ I know I can ride again, but it’s never going to be the same,” she said. “I’ll still go out to the pasture and holler for him, and he’ll come running. He’s a cake hound! but I’m never going to be able to saddle up and just go. That realization was tougher than the word ‘paralyzed.’”
As a full-time ranch hand, Carroll was very active and strong, a factor that helps her grow and evolve in physical therapy, yet a hard pill to swallow for her and all who know her best.
“She just turned 40 in August; she just got a paddle board. We just have so many plans, and she’s young, but she’ll be fine,” said her close friend Carmen Gilbert. “If they tell her there’s a one percent chance she can walk again, she can do it.”
Carmen’s eighth-grade son Gage told his mom something that she feels perfectly describes her friend. He asked his mom if she knows “how Carroll has that fire in her eyes, and you don’t know if she is going to yell at me or hug and kiss me?” he said. “I hope that fire is still there.”
Donations to help Carroll may be sent to Pioneer Bank and Trust at Box 307, Buffalo, SD 57720.
National Finals Rodeo barrel racing qualifier Jessica Routier of Buffalo, South Dakota, has donated profits from her #TeamMissica T-shirts to Carroll. They are still available for $20 plus $5 shipping through Nichya Gunderson.
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As a routine management matter, the Teddy Roosevelt National Park plans to remove a few horses from its herd.