A small hack described as “dream horse” helped Lindsey Hewitt through two devastating brain surgeries and eventually brought her back into the show ring. Hewitt, who’s 35 and a buyer for Asda, was with her vet in October 2014 when she suffered a massive brain haemorrhage caused by a burst aneurysm.
“Luckily, my vet recognised the symptoms and called an ambulance immediately, which saved my life,” says Hewitt. “I don’t remember anything after having a seizure and blacking out until I woke up two days later in Leeds General Infirmary.”
Hewitt was put into an induced coma and neurosurgeons found three aneurysms in her brain, two on the left and one on the right. It was one of the left ones that had burst, but they couldn’t tell which one.
Surgeons used a procedure called coiling, which is less intrusive than open brain surgery, to fix the two aneurysms on the left side of her brain.
“My family were told they could not predict whether I would physically or mentally disabled,” reveals Hewitt, who spent two further weeks in hospital.
With low energy levels, she struggled to speak, eat and walk, and was plagued by what she calls “horrendous headaches” as her brain reabsorbed the blood.
“However, I was alive!” she says. “Three out of five people die when a brain aneurysm bursts causing a bleed on the brain. Half of survivors are left with physical or mental neurological damage. Statistically, I am very lucky.”
Although Hewitt made a good recovery, there was still the aneurysm on the right side of her brain, which could not be treated using the coil method because of its position. The options were to leave it alone and monitor it, or to have risky elective open brain surgery. After some heart-searching, Hewitt opted for the latter, and went into the operating theatre in March 2015.
“Just when I had started to recover from the first incident, I was now heading back into hospital for another operation,” she recalls. “The surgeon said the aneurysm burst when I was on the operating table, so again I was so, so lucky.”
When Hewitt came round from surgery, her mother, Lynn, showed her a photo of a horse on her Facebook wall, with the caption “Get well soon”.
“This was my saviour, my beautiful black small hack, Whalton Salome (Nancy),” says Hewitt. “Nancy was literally my dream horse and my mum bought her from the Amblers, who very kindly kept her for me until I was able to bring her home. It was a risky idea because, if I’d been too ill, we would have been stuck with another pony. But she was all the motivation I needed to get better, first to ride her and then to show her.
“It sounds crazy but it was like Nancy knew I was ill. When the staples were taken out of my head three weeks after surgery, I was able to wear my hat and I rode her. I managed less than five minutes walking round the indoor school before I was too exhausted and had to get off.
“This was going to be a long, slow journey but she never put a foot wrong, looked after me from day one and has done every day since. I am not physically capable of riding for too long and not sure whether I ever will be, but thanks to a fantastic group of friends and family to help with the horses, I managed to get back in the show ring with Nancy in 2015, winning at our first show and having a really successful season.”
Last October, Hewitt got Drakemyre Debonair (Ozzy) and qualified him for this year’s Royal International (RI), where she competed in July.
“It has been my ambition my whole life to ride at RI and HOYS,” she says. “I thought with my accident that this was an impossible dream, but nothing prepares you for how determined you can be when you have no choice. My damaged brain won’t stop me doing what I love and my ultimate ambition is to go for the HOYS ticket in 2017.”
Lindsey Hewitt and her dream horse, Whalton Salome, courtesy of Lindsey Hewitt