The Samford Support Network and Holly's Story

Samford Support Network and Holly's Story.

We were blown away when we first heard about some of the work the Samford Support Network and loved how they work with people in the local community.

Barbara Kienast is one of the most driven and beautiful souls in the Samford Valley area, and works day and night to ensure the Samford Support Network gets help to those who need it.

When Barbara asked us if we would like to support some of the local community members we were stoked! This is where we were introduced to Holly and her story. Below is an excerpt from an article her mum wrote for the Samford Support Network.

Holly was 23 when she decided to work as a groom in Germany, it was a decision she did not make lightly. She loved the life she was living in Australia, riding, training and competing her horse, Pierre, working locally as a chef, attending TAFE to qualify as a pastry chef, breeding pure bred chickens and ducks, caring for her pet dogs, cat and budgies.  Holly had a close group of fun loving friends and a boyfriend she was madly in love with. It was hard for her to think of leaving Australia.

Holly was a high achiever, willing to sacrifice sleep and social life to reach her goals.

Into the short life she enjoyed before her accident Holly packed a lot of living.  She worked as a chef, trained apprentices, cared for, rode and competed five horses, trained ponies for others, worked for a polo club and groomed for 6 months for one of Australia's top dressage riders. Holly worked for six months for the local business Natureworks, creating fibreglass sculptures. She also worked creating book illustrations Holly volunteered as a camp councillor for Edmond Rice Camps, caring for disabled children in respite care. She also volunteered time to the Samford Equestrian Group, helping out at competitions and, for a short time, on the committee. All of this she achieved with a smile on her face, Holly found joy in all that she did. The memories she created then still warm her heart today.

Holly left for Germany 2 days after completing her studies to become a pastry chef, the family she was to work for needed help urgently. It was the 8th December 2008, Holly was 23. As we waved her off at the airport I didn't realise it was the last time I would see her as she was. It is a moment that is now etched into my heart, the sad smile, desperate hug and clear blue eyes swimming with tears and excitement.

  Once in Germany Holly enjoyed being in a new country, meeting new friends. She loved the horses she cared for and gave each one of them names after her old Australian work colleagues. It was very cold, often below -10, her first experience of real snow and ice. She lived in a tiny upstairs “apartment” (single room) in a house in Burgau, Bavaria, and rode a bicycle to and from work on the icy roads.

  Holly was kicked in the head on the morning of the 28/12/2008, she had just turned 24. A trauma team arrived within 10 minutes, she was airlifted to hospital and operated on 20 minutes later. Holly was given a 1% chance of survival by surgeons at the Ulm Military Hospital, a hospital that specialises in head trauma cases for soldiers serving in the Middle East.

Holly was lying in Intensive Care in a coma, she could not move a muscle. She had wires and tubes all over her connected to drips and machines. I read her books by her favourite author, Terry Pratchett, hoping she could still hear. There was relief all around during her 2nd week in ICU when it was found she could breathe on her own for a short time, she was slowly weaned off the ventilator. Weeks passed with no change, Holly was unresponsive and totally paralysed, a tube was put in her stomach for food and water and a tracheostomy performed on her throat. Doctors transferred her to a brain injury clinic 50 km away in Burgau, it specialised in waking coma patients. She spent 5 short weeks of therapy there before being flown back to Australia, during those 5 weeks the hard work began. Holly had many therapies every day, some to help her wake gently, others to keep her body moving. Her left eye opened, the first movement of any body part since her accident. Holly would sometimes blink when asked, she was still in there Holly was sent back to Australia, the next 3 months were hard for Holly, she suffered further brain damage in hospital, gains made in Germany were lost, there was a lot of pain and little to indicate Holly was conscious. Back in Germany 5 months after her accident Holly fought hard and gained some movement in her left arm, foot and leg. The whole clinic celebrated the day Holly was finally able to communicate “yes” or “no” answers with a special buzzer near her left elbow, the therapists and I danced in the corridors! Holly progressed slowly to answer “yes” or “no” with her left big toe, then used an alphabet board, spelling single words with her left foot, it took months for the foot movement to return. The first sentence she put together was “I love Adam”  

Every single day was full of pain and fear for Holly, she was terrified of falling, even when lying flat in bed, movement often made her fear overwhelming Return of movement also had a price, it meant horrible debilitating pain in the area affected as nerves misfired to muscles before creating correct pathways. Holly's skin would feel “electric shocks” every time she was touched. Her life was exhausting, still, she found pleasure in what was around her. She loved the therapy rabbits and dog, enjoyed the gardens and developed strong relationships with her therapists and nurses. Her smile returned, a bit lopsided, but.... a smile, what a wonderful day that was!

Holy and Barabara from the SSN

Holy and Barabara from the SSN

Often there were setbacks, progress was painfully slow, 2 steps forward, 1 step back. Holly could not eat or drink, she was fed via a tube, she missed food so much. To stand or “walk” Holly's legs were strapped to splints, made using a plaster cast of her whole leg. Her therapists would then create the movement of walking for her, after months of this Holly could take small steps herself if supported. She climbed stairs with 3 people supporting her, then climbed more stairs, then even more, each step made with leaden legs. Holly never missed a therapy, always tried hard, worked through her pain and fear and managed a smile every time I got the camera out. She had physiotherapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, animal therapy, music therapy, neurotherapy, group therapy, art therapy, cooking therapy, movement therapy and hour after hour of retraining by nursing staff, who taught her to dress herself, wash herself, clean her teeth, brush her hair.  Holly had to relearn how to live, step by step, thousands of repetitions were needed to create the nerve pathways necessary for a new task.

By March 2010 Holly was homesick. Every day for 6 months she asked to go home. Holly lost her ability to cry the day of her accident, but I believed her when she said she was crying inside. Being away from family, friends, horses and pets was taking its toll. She missed the sun and wanted to be somewhere familiar. She was desperate to be home before Christmas.

Holly arrived back in Australia a few days before Christmas 2010. She had a new walker, a cup she could “drink” from, a communication device, splint for her right leg, special shoes, and the will to do whatever it took to live at home. Holly had relearned how to eat soft food 13 months after her accident, but because of facial muscle damage Holly had difficulty drinking, and still “drank” via the tube inserted in her stomach. She would practice drinking whenever she could, and persisted for months at home until she was able to drink enough each day to have the tube removed. After the operation Holly enjoyed every second of watching that tube burn in a fire. Drinking is painful for Holly, every swallow hurts, she rarely complains.

Holly continues to improve, attends therapy in Australia and has 2 months of intensive therapy annually in a small town called Gailingen, in Germany. Her progress is remarkable. Holly is determined to live a full life, plans to walk on her own, talk, compete her horse and trail ride, breed and show poultry, and much, much more.

Holly loves living in Samford, every day she enjoys the beauty around her, she grows flowers and vegetables, cares for chickens and birds, plays with her dogs, spends time with her horse, paints and draws. She loves cooking pancakes (and eating them)  Holly never takes the small moments for granted, she always remembers to smell the flowers and listen to the birds. Holly makes sure she enjoys each moment with the people she loves, as she says “In seconds your life can change and never be the same, so it is important to enjoy what is around you and appreciate what you have all the time”

Samford Valley

Samford Valley

We were taken aback by the drive and passion this young lady had, despite suffering a horrific brain injury miles from home. Holy has big goals and aspirations and we wanted to make sure we could help, so when the SSN asked us if we could work with Holly we jumped at the chance.

Mike, our exercise physiologist has a huge special interest in working with Neurological and Brain Injuries. So Mike was eager to get to work with Holly to support her goal of getting to the Paralympics in the sport of Equestrian Riding.

Mike and Holly with her mum after some seriosu dad jokes and Movement in between

Mike and Holly with her mum after some seriosu dad jokes and Movement in between

Whilst we understand Holly’s therapy will be ongoing, we are stoked to see her in our rehab space every week and lets say Mike and her may need to be kept apart as they are both exceptionally “good” at telling Dad jokes! 

Holly is a great example of what the SSN does on a day to day basis and we will always be huge supporters of this brilliant organisation.

Please Consider making a donation to the Samford Support Network by clicking on their paypal link below.