Riding horses has always been the heartbeat of Sidney Doane’s life. The 29-year-old from the farming community of Downs, Kansas, grew up riding and showing horses in 4-H, a hobby she continued into her young adult years. Today, saddling up takes on a whole new meaning for Sidney.
On Dec. 18, 2014, Sidney was driving to Waco, Texas, to visit her sister, Audrey. She had just wrapped up her winter finals at the University of Kansas, where she was in her second year as a graduate student. After an overnight snow fall, Sidney delayed her departure to give road crews time to clear the interstate.
Near Wichita, Sidney hit an icy patch and careened off the road. As a result of the accident, she suffered a severe diffuse axonal brain injury, a type of traumatic brain injury that occurs when the brain rapidly shifts inside the skull, shearing the long connecting brain fibers known as axons.
Luckily, she survived.
After 2 1/2 weeks at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita, Sidney moved to Madonna to begin intensive inpatient therapy. Still in a comatose state, Sidney began her rehabilitation journey—even though she was unable to breathe or swallow on her own, walk or communicate. Sidney’s parents, Steve and Heidi, were there for every minute, providing constant support and encouragement for the long road ahead.
As is the case with the most significant brain injuries, time, repetition and determination slowly yielded positive results. At first, Sidney’s gains were few and far between – but her therapists worked day in and day out to help remap her brain with 1000s of repetitions to help her wake up. Five months into inpatient therapy, Sidney was able to remove her feeding tube.
With more awareness, came more changes. But Steve and Heidi said the real gains began when horses were reintroduced to Sidney’s life.
“I remember the first time [Sidney’s occupational therapist] Brooke [Murtaugh] took her to the horse show in Lincoln,” Heidi said. “And then to see Sidney be put on a horse – you know she went from the first time on a horse with five people holding her up there to just a month or two later setting up by herself and just have someone walk alongside her. You could have never told me that horses were going to bring her back to life.”
Horses didn’t just reinvigorate Sidney’s drive, they physically helped her gain strength. Coupled with physical therapy, horses played a role in Sidney regaining her ability to walk. In fact, at the end of her seven month inpatient stay, Sidney was able to walk out of Madonna with the help of her therapists.
“I just don’t give up, Sidney said. “I push myself and my parents push me, so for that I am thankful.”
Sidney continued onto Madonna’s outpatient rehabilitation day program, where she attended up to 8 hours of therapy multiple days a week. There, she improved upon her walking abilities by coupling aquatic therapy with specialized technology, including the Lokomat and the Madonna ICARE, a motorized elliptical training system developed by researchers at Madonna and manufactured and sold by SportsArt. Later on, she would use the Indego Exoskeleton to further refine her gait.
As her walking abilities began to flourish, so did her riding skills. Sidney began progressing through horses and fine-tuning her skills to return to show through the Quarter Horse Association. In July 2017, just 2 ½ years after her accident, Sidney earned first place in the Amateur Walk/Trot Trail with her therapy horse, Snickers, during a show in Kansas.
“Riding horses is the best thing ever so I’m just so glad that I can ride again,” Sidney said.
Showing isn’t the only love Sidney has returned to, she’s also back to completing her master’s degree in educational psychology at the University of Kansas, a goal she worked on diligently with her therapists. Her mom, Heidi, recalled when Sidney started working with Madonna’s teachers in the therapeutic learning center (TLC), she began with relearning 1+1=2. Now, she is expected to graduate in May 2021.
“Always the goal was to be able to go back to school, and our entire therapy team worked with that goal and pushed her,” Heidi said. “We thought it was going to be overwhelming [for her to return to KU] but she did very well. If we didn’t have that team behind us why, I don’t think she would have ever made it.”
Sidney’s support system at Madonna continues today, nearly six years after her accident. She still attends weekly vision and speech therapies on the Lincoln Campus. She said she’s grateful for everyone at Madonna who has made an impact on her journey and helped bring her back to life.
“I’m just so thankful for you and everyone on my team,” Sidney said. “Thank you Madonna for everything along the way, and God!”