By Aaron Evans, Features Editor
We are not promised a life free from interruption. Every moment is met with uncertainty as a world outside our control swirls in front of us, threatening to grab us and turn our lives around without warning.
For senior Heather Hollingshead, that interruption came in a major way after an accident that nearly took her life and left her severely injured when she was 16.
But Heather ensures that her story is unlike most. “People are always a bit surprised when they hear it.”
“I was in a major horseback riding accident that resulted in major facial reconstruction surgery,” she began. “The horse I was working with got spooked at something, and when he turned to run, I was in his way, and the horse head-butted me in the face, knocking me four feet backward.”
It happened in seconds, and Heather remained fully conscious, despite the intense blow from the horse.
“Although my vision blacked out, I remember everything,” she explained. “I didn’t feel any pain in the moment, and although I felt disoriented, I had no idea what actually happened. I just thought I got knocked over.”
Heather’s mother and Justin, the horse instructor’s son, were the only two people who were there when the incident happened. After Heather began to yell for help, the two came running, dialing 911 as soon as they saw what happened.
“I remember them saying things I couldn’t understand,” Heather recalled. “My face felt hot and wet, and my mom was holding me in her arms, trying to hold herself together. She didn’t want to scare me.”
The injury was far worse than Heather realized.
“When the horse hit me, it caused a compound fracture to happen between my nose and my face,” Heather said as her finger subtly motioned to a small scar on the bridge of her nose. “My bones were completely outside of my face, and there was no way to stop the flow of blood…it took the ambulance almost a half hour to get to us, and I was on an immediate [blood] transfusion because I lost so much blood.”
Heather was immediately transferred to the Ohio State University Medical Center, and as doctors ran tests, they found more and more damage.
“I had a compound fracture, the tendon that held one of my eyes was broken, severed tear ducts and my sinuses were destroyed,” Heather explained. She spoke calmly, not fazed in the slightest by recalling the accident. “I was awake and completely coherent the entire time, and I felt almost no pain throughout it all. It almost seemed like [my parents and visitors] were more concerned than I was.”
Heather’s condition slowly stabilized, leaving doctors surprised considering the severity of her injuries.
“They told me that I should’ve been dead or in a vegetable state,” Heather said, smiling. “Medical students kept coming in and studying my case…but there was so much prayer from friends and family the entire time.”
As she waited for her surgery, it was with this support that Heather’s spirits were not tainted.
“I remember my mother keeping me from looking into a mirror, because she was afraid I would go into shock after seeing myself,” Heather told me. “I remember once telling her that I had to go wash my hands in the sink, and she held her breath as I looked in the mirror. I saw myself and how swollen and bruised I looked, and then turned to my mom and said, ‘[the horse] got me pretty good, didn’t he?’ ”
She had every reason to be falling apart, however, it was the prayers of friends and family that kept Heather, quite literally, in one piece.
“When I had the surgery, it lasted around 12 hours, and it was only supposed to last six hours,” Heather continued. “They found more damage to the lining of my brain once the surgery began. However, I had a team of awesome surgeons who flew in from different parts of the country, and they couldn’t have done a better job. And I still looked like myself after the fact.”
The amount of favor and support Heather experienced throughout the entire situation was overwhelming. Visitors came in and out, offering prayer and financial support, and even expressing their hurt and frustration about what happened to her. But for Heather, she could not find a reason to complain or grow bitter towards God. She was grateful for mercy.
Heather went on to say that during her stay in OSU’s children’s hospital, “there were some kids there who were abandoned by their families, and others whose families just couldn’t afford treatment. I remember I heard about this four-year-old boy who was also staying in the hospital — I never got to meet him — who had been there for two years because of a rare blood disease.”
Compassion moved Heather to act and do whatever she could to help the children at the hospital in poor condition.
“People would ask me how they could help, and I remember saying ‘I have all of this covered, but [the other kids] don’t. I want to help these kids that are here,’” she said with empathy. “My dad got to talking to the chief of medicine at the hospital, and they opened up a trust fund in our name, so it’s basically this bank account that anyone can just put money into for families that couldn’t afford treatment. During my stay, we were able to raise $12,000.”
As Heather saw beyond her circumstance, and God worked through her accident and used her willingness to bless others.
“I got to see God work in and through the hospital, and I knew that there is a reason for everything. My issue seemed so small in comparison, and if I was there, I wanted to help. It sounds so weird to say, but it was good to be in the hospital.”
As healing came for Heather in her time out of the hospital, she found herself speaking to groups of younger girls in her church about seeing as yourself as beautiful, even if they didn’t feel like it.
“In the recovery process after my surgery, my face was swollen for almost a year,” Heather remembered. “I didn’t feel beautiful at all, and that caused a lot of brokenness in me. I sought to find my worth in other people. But God brought me the verse Jeremiah 29:11, and then I asked Him ‘What are the plans you have for me?’ and that opened the doors to so much healing for me.”