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Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals

Nebraska teen returns home to horses after brain injury

November 22, 2022

Growing up on an acreage, Saige Scheele remembers being around animals or playing softball. The 15-year-old from just outside of Gresham, Nebraska, loves her horse, Ace, and enjoys playing sports for Centennial High School.

But in September, while on her way to an early morning softball practice, a serious car accident put Saige’s life in jeopardy.

“Shortly after she left, the pager goes off saying there’s been an accident with two pickups,” Danielle Scheele, Saige’s mom, recalled. “My mom gut feeling just sank at that point because the time frame was pretty close.”

Life-flighted from Bryan Medical Center in Lincoln to UNMC in Omaha, Saige, the oldest of four children, doesn’t remember anything from that day. With a traumatic brain injury, she spent the next several weeks at UNMC before coming to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals.

“Everyone told us: ‘That’s where you need to be,’” Danielle said. “Everyone asked, ‘Are you going to Madonna?’ We just heard such positive things.”

Unable to walk and struggling with cognition, Saige set sail in her recovery through Madonna’s specialized brain injury program led by a team of physicians, clinical staff and nurses certified as brain injury specialists.

“It was hard because I was learning stuff I knew before the accident,” Saige said. “Trying to learn colors again when I was doing that with my parents when I was 3 years old. Reading was super hard because all of the words were going together. I thought I moved back really far. But I know every day going to therapies, I’m a lot farther than what I was last week and what I was yesterday. When I came here, I wasn’t even able to sit up in my own bed. It was really hard.”

During intense physical and occupational therapy, Saige started seeing progress, not only with her memory but physically as well. With the help of technology like the NuStep T5 cross trainer in Madonna’s therapy gym, Saige took her first steps.

“In physical therapy the first time, they had me stand for five seconds and I was already tired,” Saige said. “Now, I’m able to walk upstairs, I’m able to just stand by myself, and that to me is the cool part because I didn’t think that I would be able to do that.”

Understanding Saige’s interests, her care team worked her hobbies into her therapy, which included tossing around a softball.

“We were in the gym one day, and there was a softball, and I said, ‘let’s go for it, and see what you can do,’” Scott Fandrich, a Madonna physical therapist, said. “She picked up right where she left off. Anytime you can do that, it increases participation, and helps them see the future. What they’re doing here can help them on their path toward the future.”

Halloween was special for Saige, as during outpatient therapy, it felt like home with therapy horses from Windsong Equitherapy visiting Madonna. During her last week at Madonna, Saige enjoyed walking around the Lincoln Children’s Zoo on a patient outing with her care team.

“I know when they said they were going to bring horses, they made the mistake of saying it in front of her,” Jay Scheele, Saige’s dad, said.

“As soon as she heard that, that’s all she could talk about for a week and a half. It got her as close to at home and normal; you could almost see the spark back in her eye with the horse. That gave her a boost to keep going. She enjoyed the zoo and got to come back and tell everyone that she walked the whole zoo. That was a confidence builder.”

Full of spirit, Saige is stronger and is eager to make more memories at home, just as she did at Madonna.

“All of the people here, you can tell that they care about what they get to do, and they care about being able to help you,” Saige said. “They want you to get better and grow. That makes a big difference.”

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