Allison Robertson

June 22, 1999 started out like any other summer day for me: get dressed and head to the barn to ride horses. Leaving to go to the barn, I glanced over and realized that one of our horses had a new baby by her side.

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June 22, 1999 started out like any other summer day for me: get dressed and head to the barn to ride horses. Leaving to go to the barn, I glanced over and realized that one of our horses had a new baby by her side.

I had been riding horses since before I could walk and competitively showing hunter jumpers for years. I called a close friend who I rode horses with to share the good news with her and she said she would come out. When my friend got there we headed out to see the new horse. I brought the mama horse out as the new little one followed. What happened next I tell you not from memory, but rather from what I've been told.

They say this happens with trauma and with brain injuries, both of which I experienced that day. Our Rottweiler, a normally extremely calm and docile dog,
began barking and chasing the new foal. In turn, the mother horse apparently felt
as though her new little one was in danger. My friend was trying to get the dog to stop and saw me lying on the ground. She told me to get up or I’d get hurt. Apparently this was when she saw my face was badly injured and ran inside to tell my mom to call 911.

They don’t know if the horse kicked me out of the way or if she reared up to get free and caught my face with her hoof on the way down. They do know that if the impact would have happened a quarter of an inch to the left, I wouldn’t be here today.

I was airlifted to the nearest hospital. In addition to a brain injury, the kick shattered the entire right side of my face, my nose, and cracked my skull and spine. I went into a five hour surgery with multiple doctors. During the surgery, my parents were told the news
no parents should ever hear. It was explained to them that IF I survived, I likely wouldn’t have a very good quality of life. As a parent now, I can’t even begin to comprehend this scenario.

A few days later, I was still in recovery in the ICU. I was hooked up to countless machines that beeped constantly. In a room of sadness and uncertainty, out of nowhere, I started making dramatic beeping sounds. My friend in the room turned to my mom and told her I was going to be just fine. The only thing I remember from that hospital stay was when someone was helping me get to the bathroom and I caught a glance at my face in the mirror. It was absolutely terrifying. I had been told that I had been kicked, but here was nothing that anyone could have said to prepare me for that image. The right side of my face was bruised and swollen beyond recognition.
Hospital staff and my family had done the best they could, but they weren’t able to remove all the dried blood. It was not only dried on my face but also caked into my hair.

This was a time in healthcare when hospitals received more reimbursement for short stays and I was discharged to go home 5 short days after my accident. I don’t remember much of this time outside of endless trips to the doctor.

Once the swelling reduced and my right eye started to open again, we discovered that my vision was gone. At this time there weren’t clear answers to whether the sight would return. Each night I would cover the seeing eye while someone
held up a flashlight shining into the inured one. Each night was filled with disappointment as all I continued to see was darkness. With more intensive testing,
we learned that the optic nerve had been completely severed. There was no possibility that the vision would return. The doctor also explained that the injured eye was shrinking and they feared something called sympathetic eye syndrome, where the non-injured eye would shrink to match the other and possibly also lose sight completely.

The best course of action would be to remove the eye and then eventually receive an artificial one. In the office that day, I had two very important questions for the doctor, would I be able to keep the injured eye? And would I be able to remove the new eye at will? While I was disappointed I wouldn’t be able to tote my original eye around in a jar like a weirdo, I was at least satisfied with the fact that I had the future of a fantastic party trick.

Since the accident, I’ve had over 20 surgeries on my face, mostly around my eye and primarily in an attempt to regain the appearance that nothing ever happened.
I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some incredibly talented doctors over the years and most people who hear my story are shocked as it isn’t usually obvious
that I’ve been through so much.

For years, I spent some time hiding my disability. I worked hard to ignore that it was something that had so significantly shaped who I had become. It wasn’t until working alongside and directly with people with disabilities that I now have changed my thinking.

It took my being around people who live with incredible challenges who don’t hide them but instead celebrate them, that I have felt a t home in this community of people and comfortable being who I am including my flaws and imperfections. What I hid before, I now cherish and find beautiful.

I think as a society we are quick to display what we are doing well and what we have accomplished. Yes, I have degrees and an amazing family and a fantastic job. I love my volunteer work and have some of the greatest friends. But I’m trying to share the not so pretty parts too.

Fast forward 21 years after the accident and here I am. I’ve learned so much along the way and some days I have to remind myself all of this more than others. Beauty is not one’s appearance. Our health is not guaranteed. There is humor and hope everywhere, even in the darkest of times. It’s okay not to be perfect.
And most of all: celebrate your uniqueness.