BREVARD COUNTY — Riding horses has always been a passion for one Eau Gallie High School student. It takes a special bond between a rider and a horse to be able to compete, putting trust in one another to make the right decisions on the track.
It also takes one wrong move for tragedy to strike.
Alexis Halbert, a 15-year-old rising sophomore, is currently undergoing intensive physical and occupational therapy at Shepherd Center in Atlanta after being thrown from her horse “Charisma,” during a 1.10 meter children’s jumper class on July 18.
The Halbert family traveled to North Carolina for the summer where Alexis competed in several events at the Tryon International Equestrian Center.
“The week before her accident she was a Reserve Champion of her division, which is the most competitive division of that age group,” said Liz Halbert.
Charisma, a 13-year-old warmblood mare, misjudged the final jump, hit the rails and flipped. Charisma died instantly after breaking her neck, falling on top of her rider who was knocked unconscious.
Alexis suffered a spinal cord injury, concussion and bruised ribs. She was airlifted to Greenville Memorial Hospital in South Carolina where surgery lasted three hours.
Mrs. Halbert said that Alexis was diagnosed with cord stretch damage. There were three fractured vertebrae, her T6 and T7, and screws were put in place on T5, T6 and T8, with rods on either side to stabilize it.
The surgeon at Greenville Memorial Hospital had told Mrs. Halbert that the most important thing that had to be done was to remove the blood out of Alexis’ spinal column because that’s what clots and can cause issues later in patients.
“Today was an emotional day,” Mrs. Halbert said. “She was really fighting nausea all this week off and on. This morning when the occupational therapist came in, they brought a wheelchair and they put what looks like a waist trainer on and some socks with Ace bandages around her legs.
“We sat her up in bed, she didn’t think she could do it,” she continued. “We got her into the wheelchair and she wheeled partially down the hallway and of course, she cried. It’s traumatic for an adult, I can’t imagine as a 15-year-old trying to process that.”
With the Shepherd Center under restrictive visitor measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only one parent is allowed to stay with Alexis. Mrs. Halbert said this has been difficult for Alexis, as she likes having her father hold her hand as she falls asleep.
Alexis’ friends and even strangers have offered support during this time, sending in cards of comfort. When it gets tough, Mrs. Halbert said she or her husband will contact Alexis’ friends and ask them to reach out.
A week before Alexis was due to arrive in Atlanta, the hospital received phone calls from strangers asking for the address. Mrs. Halbert added that the family has been touched by the letters that have been coming into the hospital for Alexis.
“It’s amazing, the amount of outreach and support has been a lifeline,” Mrs. Halbert said.
Alexis was born to ride, Mrs. Halbert said. From four years old, Alexis was introduced to horses and with each birthday she got to take lessons.
At six years old, Alexis got a pony and as she advanced in training, moved on to “Rieka” a grand prix horse that couldn’t jump big anymore.
At 12 years old, Alexis was competing in rated shows at events in Kentucky and North Carolina. When Rieka retired, they found Charisma.
As Alexis entered the ninth grade in the previous school year, she was encouraged to join the Eau Gallie soccer team to improve her cardio. Alexis played goalie and despite never playing soccer before, was being looked at for a spot on the varsity team for her sophomore year.
For now, her parents are praying that Alexis may walk again. Currently, she is learning to be independent with a wheelchair and although Alexis could once wiggle her toes after surgery, she can’t anymore.
“It’s heartbreaking to see but she’s tough and she’s a fighter,” Mrs. Halbert said.
The Halbert’s medical insurance denied coverage of Alexis’s stay at the Shepherd Center, and so a Facebook fundraiser was created by Alexis’ trainer Hector Florentino to help cover the costs.
At the time of print, $188,178 of the $320,716 goal was raised to cover 44 days of physical and occupational therapy.
To help support Alexis with her medical bills, visit www.facebook.com/donate/307524030394164 or search for “Alexis Halbert Fundraiser” on Facebook.