For the Scott and Rachel Seymour family, it was looking like Thanksgiving 2019 would be the most difficult the family would ever face.
As it turned out, it ended up being perhaps the most meaningful holiday the local family had ever celebrated.
A day turns harrowing
On the Sunday prior to Thanksgiving, Scott and Rachel Seymour’s daughter, Jade, 15, went horseback riding with her friend, Sam Lura. Jade and Sam have been friends since they were little. They’d also ridden horses plenty of times, so this was nothing out of the ordinary.
“I remember going to church that day, and then sitting at the health foods store and eating,” said Jade. “We saw officer Brian Lunquist (there). I remember getting in our car (to go home). I remember telling my mom if we don’t come back in an hour, to come and look for us.”
But what Jade can’t remember is what happened while she was riding her horse, Kateri, a 3-year-old Devils Garden mustang. Jade got the horse over a year ago and had been training it. There was no reason to believe an accident would occur.
“She’s never been aggressive or anything, she’s always been great. She’s just green,” said Jade.
“She is just a mellow horse,” added Rachel.
Jade and Sam went riding in the Apperson Mine Road area, behind the Seymour home.
Sam was in front, with Jade trailing behind.
“What I think happened was something popped out of the forest,” Jade said.
“We think it might have gotten spooked,” added Scott.
“It takes a while to train them, but she’s ridden that horse a lot,” Sam added. “I’m assuming it got spooked. It’s a wild animal. They can be reckless and crazy whenever they want. It didn’t buck her off. I don’t know how she fell off because she’s an experienced rider.”
Jade doesn’t remember it, but Sam heard the commotion behind him and what he saw was there apparently was no bucking; Jade more or less slid off the side of the horse.
“One of my feet got caught in the stirrup,” Jade believes.
“I looked back and saw her come off the saddle and hit her head on the ground. Then the horse kind of kicked her around,” said Sam.
Jade’s head took the brunt of the blow as she fell to the ground.
“That’s when I got off my horse and came over to her. She was sprawled out on the road with a puddle of blood. It was kind of a gruesome scene,” Sam said. “She wasn’t breathing at first and her eyes were open. Then 30 seconds later, that’s when she started to breathe slowly again.”
Sam tried using a phone to dial 911 but there was no service.
“Long story short, I tried to carry her back to the house. I didn’t know if she broke her back or neck or anything, but I saw her kick her leg and arm a few times, so I knew she wasn’t paralyzed,” he said. “When I started to carry her back, she started throwing up and choking on her own blood. She stopped breathing three different times after that. I had to pump her chest a few times and then sit with her and hold her head up.”
Sam yelled out for help for nearly 40 minutes. He was afraid to leave her because he thought she might die. He was afraid to move her because he thought he might injure her.
“ I couldn’t leave. I almost ran back to the house a few times. I’m glad I slowed down and didn’t make an irrational decision,” Sam said. “I really didn’t know what to do. It was pretty scary. … I thought I lost her multiple times, especially right when it happened.”
“The bottom line was, no one was responding. They were in an area where, after yelling for such a long time, he didn’t feel he could have left her because she was vomiting and because she stopped breathing a couple times. He felt if he left her, that would be worse,” Scott added.
Thankfully, a nearby neighbor heard the calls for help and was able to call 911.
“He knows Jade, but didn’t know it was Jade at that time,” Rachel said.
Soon, emergency responders were on the scene.
Rachel, meanwhile, was just about to find out what had taken place.
The same neighbor who heard the calls for help then drove up the Seymour’s driveway, turned around and left.
“(I think he was in shock), when I was trying to figure out who had come up, I saw the horses without riders next to the tack room,” Rachel said. “I ran down, and called to the kids, but no answer. I untacked Jade’s horse to put it away, trying to calm myself, wondering what had happened. Then I saw the fire truck go by, and knew there had been an accident.”
Rachel made her way to the area in a panic.
“That’s when I knew it was going to be a nightmare,” Rachel said.
Oddly enough, sheriff deputy Lunquist — who the family had seen earlier that day at the health foods store — was at the scene to help, and Rachel said he was instrumental in keeping her calm.
“Lunquist was amazing. He was really great and quite supportive,” she said.
Soon enough, Jade was loaded onto a helicopter to be taken to Valley Children’s Hospital in Fresno. Rachel accompanied her on the trip.
Jade’s occipital bone in the back of her head was fractured. Her protective riding helmet was destroyed.
Jade is certain she would have been “dead upon impact” if she hadn’t been wearing a protective riding helmet.
Other than that, Jade had a tiny bit of “road rash” on her side, but no broken bones or bruising on her body.
As for Sam, he wasn’t sure what would become of his friend.
“I got told I did the right thing,” Sam said. “Knowing (now) that she’s okay and has her memory, that made everything a lot better. That was a big weight lifted off my shoulders.”
A parent’s worst nightmare
During all of this, Scott — who is a wrestling coach at Mariposa County High School — was coming back from a wrestling tournament in the Bay Area with his young sons.
“I got a call from her (Rachel) saying, ‘I think something happened to Jade. I saw a fire truck go by,’” Scott said.
Scott called the Mariposa County Seriff’s Office dispatch from Merced and asked whether there had been an emergency send-out to the Jerseydale area.
“I asked if they could have somebody get a hold of me to get any details,” he said.
Then Scott called the John C. Fremont Hospital emergency room.
“They told me they sent out the helicopter, and said there weren’t any details other than there was head trauma. They told me they send everyone with head trauma to Valley Children’s Hospital or to Modesto,” he said.
Because he either had to go to Fresno or Modesto — located in two completely different directions — it would be senseless to drive all the way to Mariposa, only to have to turn back around. Scott said that at that point, he “knew I needed to stay where I was and wait to see where” he needed to go.
“Right after I got the call, I called Jerry Lura (father of Sam Lura) at home in Mariposa. I told him I thought something had happened to the kids. The horses came home without them. I asked if he could go find out what happened,” Scott said.
Meanwhile, Scott sat in his vehicle with his sons, Easton and August, waiting 30-45 minutes for the next bit of news.
Scott finally received a text from Rachel, notifying him they were going to Valley Children’s Hospital in Fresno.
Scott said during the whole ordeal, his mind was racing with frightening possibilities.
“No one ruled out spinal damage or anything. I was very much thinking of a broken neck or something,” he said. “The ride from there to the emergency room was difficult. I called upon the help of Easton and August to help me navigate because it was dark and there was a lot of traffic.”
Scott also said he had to remain brave for his young sons, who were also worried.
“I wanted to show concern in a way that didn’t put us in danger as well as throw them into a panic. But they were both very aware something was not right,” he said.
Finally, Scott arrived at the hospital and met Rachel there.
“It was like a movie scene where there were so many people there. They were waiting for her and were ready. Her hair was matted with blood, dirt, pine needles and leaves,” Rachel said. “It’s like your worst nightmare. It’s one you just always push out of your mind as a mom, like it only happens in movies. Immediately, I had to go to prayer. That is the only way without totally losing your mind. They (doctors) told me I had to promise that I would keep it under control if things go very badly. I said ‘Okay.’”
Doctors wheeled Jade into another room to take a CT scan of her head.
“They said it was supposed to be a quick turnaround, but it ended up taking an hour and 15 minutes,” Scott said. “I was getting stressed. When you’re trying to draw information from someone’s face, we were only drawing not great vibes out of all of it: Is she going to live, and if she does, what state would she be in? No one had answers for us.”
Meanwhile, Jade’s head pressure continued to rise and her vitals were dropping.
Scott called his son Keenan who lives in Oklahoma. Keenan said, “She’s going to be okay, right dad?”
Scott didn’t know how to answer.
At that point, things were looking bleak. Doctors decided to perform a craniectomy (a surgery done to remove a part of the skull in order to relieve pressure in that area when a brain swells) as a last ditch effort to stop the swelling.
For the next few days, the Seymour family could only hope and pray.
“I was thinking, other mothers have done this before. I can do this,” Rachel said. “The hardest thing was thinking about the possibility of never having a conversation with my daughter again.”
Then the miracle came.
On Thanksgiving, Jade began to show positive signs and to be responsive.
“Thanksgiving Day was a really good day,” Rachel said.
“It was hard the first week when she was in the hospital, and when they had to take half her skull out, that’s pretty dangerous,” Sam said. “Most people who have that kind of head trauma don’t start blinking until a month or two, but she was talking a week later and showing signs and all that. It is just a miracle in all shapes. Got pretty lucky.”
While at the hospital, Jade underwent several types of therapy: physical, mental, speech, recreational and even musical.
“In physical therapy, we did a lot of balancing and working on cognitive functioning,” said Jade. “We did a lot of multitasking.”
For example, she might have balanced on one leg while doing other activities with her hands.
She did a lot of hand movements to regain strength in her left hand and arm. At one point, doctors believed she wouldn’t be able to use her left arm.
She played strategy games, did memory and recall activities, baked, played Uno and much more in order to get her mind active.
It was exhausting. She had a lot of neck pain — and still does — and had to get used to hospital food.
There were also moments of homesickness.
“I would get homesick, especially early in the morning when I woke up before everyone else,” Jade said. “But I didn’t really get depressed or down. I tried to keep a positive outlook because the alternative is to be depressed. I felt for my healing process, a positive attitude would help me make more progress faster.”
Over the weeks that followed, doctors were amazed at her progress.
“People would call us and ask us what they could do. We told them to just pray,” Rachel said. “It was completely miraculous.”
Believe it or not, Jade was released from the hospital a week before Christmas, meaning it was close to a month under hospital care.
She is required to wear a protective helmet for most of the day to protect the part of her head where her skull is missing.
Sometime this winter, surgeons will replace the missing part of Jade’s skull with titanium or plastic. There is a risk of seizures and other side effects, but doctors expect it to go smoothly.
Once that process is complete, there will be no more helmet required for Jade.
She’s taking things slowly, but in many ways is the same Jade as she used to be.
Jade, who is homeschooled, said she is taking a few months off before easing back into schoolwork.
“Doctors were saying it would be too overwhelming (to jump right back in),” Jade said.
She said every day, she feels stronger and has more stamina.
She’s limiting her screen time, which isn’t a big problem, she said, as she’s never been one to sit in front of a TV or tablet.
She’s also reading a lot of Shakespeare, watching her brother perform card tricks (he drives her crazy sometimes, as brothers do) and many of the usual activities she would be doing.
She also had a chance to reconnect with Kateri, the horse she loves deeply and was riding on that fateful day. Obviously, she’s not riding the horse yet, but has had a chance to be around it.
“I’ve been back around her, and she’s great. I miss going down and riding her a lot. Not being with the horses is maybe the most depressing part,” Jade said. “I want to go out and ride my horse again (someday). It doesn’t mean I will do crazy things.”
Faith got her through
Through it all, it was faith which helped Jade persevere, she said.
“What has helped me the most personally is definitely faith. Prayer has been a huge part. I have seen clear-cut signs and things I’ve asked for help with immediately (arriving),” Jade said. “I think it is at least helpful.”
Optimism has been another “huge thing” for her recovery, she said.
“It doesn’t mean I haven’t felt down about things. (But) you’ve got to look at the bright side,” she explained.
Jade isn’t sure if she will ever return the wrestling mats, which has been such a massive part of her life. But she’s not ruling it out.
“Living in fear is something I’ve never tried to do,” Jade said.
As for Scott and Rachel, they will continue to monitor their daughter’s progress and will ultimately leave the decision up to her, when she is given the green light from medical professionals to return to normal activities.
“We’re going to follow Jade’s lead. She won’t be doing anything for a year, like wrestling or horseback riding. But when she is cleared to do the things she wants to do, we are going to follow her lead,” Rachel said. “The way she continues to progress is miraculous. God was in the center of it all, from the beginning.”
Grateful for support
The members of the family each said they remain grateful for the support from the community throughout the incident.
“The community support was huge,” said Jade. “I had so many letters sent to me at the hospital. It was amazing to hear and see how many people were with me on the journey and praying for me, and seeing how many people cared. The amount of people who cared really motivated me.”
Jade said she was “incredibly” grateful to Sam Lura for his help in saving her life.
Scott seconded that, saying “the community support” has been phenomenal.
“There is not a place we go where people don’t say ‘we are thinking and praying for you,’” he said.
“Knowing the community and people all around the world were praying for her was such a comfort,” Rachel said. “Knowing that if we brought her home, the community would wrap her up in their arms like they do, because Mariposa is great — that was the comfort.”
Scott said the various emergency services personnel “couldn’t have made us feel more comfortable. From the hospital to dispatch to the first responders — we felt they helped us in the best way they possibly could.”
Scott also said his workplace, Sierra Quest, “supported me when I was not at work and not at my best. I know they have my back in business, and in love and care for my family.”
A Facebook page has been set up to monitor Jade’s progress and provide the community with updates. It can be found by searching “Talking to Jade: Support During a Traumatic Brain Injury.”