My daughter Lisa was born in 1997, 10 weeks premature, and was subsequently diagnosed with cerebral palsy. We lived in Austria back then, and therapists and doctors there gave a pretty dim outlook for her future, something I was not willing to accept. Lisa developed very slowly; she never crawled nor was able to sit up. She was a happy child though and always had a smile on her face. Her speech developed very slowly too.

First, I gave up my banking career of 17 years to dedicate my time to Lisa who now needed me most. In 1999 we moved to Arizona, but for several years kept going back and forth between there and Austria. First of all I had a big sandbox built where Lisa learned to sit – the soft and flexible ground helped her in her movements, and the warm climate was good for her. We also built a pool, and Lisa spent a lot of time in the water. She eventually learned to swim.

In 2000 we were lucky to meet a lady who introduced her 14 year old daughter to us. The girl had cerebral palsy, but she was walking and doing fine. That instantly gave me hope. We became friends, and the lady guided us in the direction of the UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica, where her daughter had undergone a selective dorsal rhizotomy 10 years earlier. It didn’t take me much to make a decision; especially after we got to meet and talk to the prospective surgeon, Dr. Jorge Lazareff, I had all confidence in the world.

Back then we were still “commuting” between Austria and Arizona,  and the therapists and doctors in Austria were very skeptical about this rhizotomy and tried to talk me out of it. Lisa had developed already a lot of spasticity in her legs making them cross severely, and making walking impossible. Her left hand was mostly fisted and white-knuckled, and she had very few motor skills only. The date for her surgery was set and nothing would convince me not to do it, as I had seen a living example in Erin, my friend’s daughter. Sadly, when we had the last check ups at the UCLA the day before the surgery, the orthopedic doctor there, too, tried to talk us out of the surgery, suggesting to wait several years, and that Lisa should develop more skills first. Despite of this, and after a final talk to Dr. Lazareff who gave me all the confidence I needed, Lisa went into surgery the next morning, and five days later we drove home. I never regret this decision: The day after the surgery Lisa was 1 inch taller, as for the first time in her life her body was not pulled together anymore. She used to speak very slowly, having to take a breath after every few words because her trunk was pulled in. After the surgery her speech developed greatly, she had speech therapy in pre-school and kindergarten, and now at teenage age is the biggest chatterbox one can imagine. The first few months after the surgery were tough, because Lisa had to start from scratch. Intensive physical and occupational therapy every single day had to be carried out by myself according to the therapists’ directions, teaching Lisa new motion patterns and strengthening her muscles. Lisa had a great spirit about all those exercises and things she went through, even though sometimes she just wore out. For a while, we used a standing brace that would keep her in upright position, for example while watching TV; as she grew bigger we switched to a stander for the same purpose. She wore ankle-foot orthodics for several years, that greatly helped her in her walking, but the problem came eventually when her feet got so sweaty in the braces that she developed a really bad rash. So orthodics were no longer a choice for us, walking without them is more difficult. We tried several kinds of walkers. In the posterior walker though, as Lisa grew taller, she was more and more afraid of falling forward, as her left hand is not strong enough to really support her. We tried a forward walker with chest support, but the disadvantage of that one was hip flexion. We are currently using a gait trainer  that gives her security with an adjustable seat. This gait trainer is being used in the house only for exercise purpose, as it is too bulky for transportation.

Despite all of Lisa’s challenges she has always lived a normal life, as I made sure she was able to experience everything any other child would do, and, when necessary, I walked her, carried her, or whatever it took to get her to a place. We climbed hills in Austrian forests picking wild mushrooms, we went ice skating (Lisa in fact was wearing ice skating shoes), we went on sled rides, we went to Disneyland and lots of other theme parks, and Lisa always got to do as many rides as were physically possible for her. I would wear out before she did, but that would not stop me.

Lisa always had a passion for horses and from little on she would ride ponies whenever possible. Later, one of the private care providers from the Department of Developmental Disabilities, did therapy on her horse with Lisa. After she left, we came across an old friend of my husbands who offered to teach Lisa to ride. Lisa was 10 years old then, and when the horse came up for sale, Lisa had enough money saved up to buy the horse. This was the best thing that could ever have happened to her. Over the last years Lisa and her horse grew together so much, and Lisa improved her riding skills to where she is totally safe to ride on her own now. The friend, who decided to teach her to ride, had never expected to see Lisa do what she is doing with her horse now. She started out riding with a special seat belt that we had mounted to her saddle, a year later she was already riding bareback. It gave her confidence, self esteem, pride, and lots and lots of joy; it is something that Lisa can do all by herself. She is now competing in barrel races and gymkhana competitions. As it became evident how much of a role horse riding will play in Lisa’s life, we decided to breed her horse, and in April 2009 her mare gave birth to a beautiful and sweet filly, who will stay in the family.

RIP Synderella. On May 11th, 2013, we had to say “good bye” to Lisa’s horse of 6 years. She ended up with a very bad colic and her new owner had to make the decision to relief her of all pain. She will always be in our hearts, as she was the most wonderful horse that Lisa could have ever had to start out on her riding adventure.

lisa

In January 2013 Lisa got a new boy named “Big Shot”. He is 13 years old and came from Team Dynasty – Fallon Taylor’s Ranch in Whitesboro, Texas. He is a big step up horse for Lisa, as his gait is much faster than Synderella’s. The two are doing great together, and Lisa had the opportunity to meet famous No. 1 Barrel Racer Fallon Taylor and her husband in person at the Mohave Crossings Event Center in Fort Mohave.

Lisa has a big heart for animals in general.  Over the last several years she has been doing multiple fundraisers for the Western Arizona Humane Society. She approached pet food companies on the internet and collected boxes of dog food and treats that she delivered to the WAHS. For Christmas she usually goes to all the businesses on our Main Street asking for donations. She also has a donation box at my art gallery.  That way she has been able to support the WAHS with many hundreds of dollars. She also volunteers and visits the WAHS as often as is possible for her, to take dogs and cats out and give them love and attention.

Lisa always attended regular school up to 6th grade. I used to walk her to her class from the parking lots of the different schools and walk her back after school, so that she would get lots of exercise. At elementary school she had a manual wheelchair and an aide to help her get around, and the aide would have her transfer into a desk chair so that she would get exercise during the day. The school district and school therapist had been pushing for a power chair for many years, promoting independence, but our concern was decreased exercise. Eventually for 6th grade middle school we got Lisa a go-chair, which is a very small power chair that comes apart into 4 pieces and loads easily into any size car. The problem I had foreseen earlier came true: we had worked throughout summer break with Lisa, making her transfer from her go-chair to a desk chair and back. When school started though, we were told that there is no time for these transfers, she’d have to stay in her go-chair. Also there was no more time for any exercise in between classes, and by the end of the day, when I picked her up from school, Lisa’s legs were so stiff that she barely could get up. Also I noticed her leaning heavily towards the left, her weak side, in her go-chair, as that chair is not meant to sit in for hours and hours. She still enjoyed her school year, and as always, finished the year on honor roll.

That summer, however, we came across home schooling, and after a lot of research and talking to lots of people, Lisa started her home schooling for 7th grade with an awesome Christian curriculum. It was the best school year she had ever had. She got her own big desk at my art gallery, where I work during the week, and pretty much self studied on her own. The best part, she could sit in her own office chair, and in between the lessons we would do exercise, stand up, walk around, stretch, and she would socialize with my gallery customers. This was the best school year for Lisa, studying was focused, compressed, and by the time we left for home, Lisa was done with her school day, no more work left for home. She really outgrew herself in that year, developed to a new level, her language and way to express herself improved greatly, and Lisa found another passion for her future life: songwriting. Homeschooling made that possible.

As of mid 2012 Lisa has written the lyrics to 22 songs. Thanks to the help and dedication of her dear friend Ben Messer from local Christian group Out of Ruin, who wrote the melodies and music to Lisa’s songs, and who recorded the first four songs with his brother Gram, songwriting has become reality for a future career of Lisa’s. Her very first song, Never Gone, is dedicated to her step-brother who had a dirt bike accident in 2000 resulting in traumatic brain injury from which he never recovered. He’s been living in a nursing facility ever since and has been going through lots of hospitalizations during the last few years. Many times we didn’t know if he was going to make it. One of those situations inspired Lisa to write this song. Click here to listen to the song: “Never Gone”.

YouTube Preview Image

Lisa is now in her senior High School year and has already completed two semesters of college. Her biggest passion though are her horses and she loves barrel racing and rodeo. She has been studying equine science for a while, but most of all she wants to make a difference in people’s lives by showing them what impact horses can have on someone with a challenge. Lisa and her mom put together a 1st Annual Exceptional Rodeo in Lake Havasu in March 2014 for special needs people – for details refer to Events on this site.

In May of 2014 Lisa got a new horse, Walter. He is a gentle giant and Lisa decided to follow her mission and start to provide therapeutic horseback riding services for kids and adults with special needs and Disabled US Veterans. We formed an Arizona non-profit organization called Hoofbeats From Heaven and will apply for 501c3 status. Please support her in any way you can. Her long term goals are to live an independent life of her own, training horses for people with challenges of any kind and to keep promoting Special Needs Rodeo on her journey.

Lisa is currently running for Andy Devine Days Rodeo Queen in Kingman, Arizona. She wants to make a difference in the rodeo world.