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Just showing off my special niece....

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  • Just showing off my special niece....

    NORCO - Eleven-year-old Katie Estrella loved to dance, play soccer and, most of all, ride horses. Katie lost them all when she was paralyzed from the lower abdomen down in an equestrian accident on May 13. She has retained the magnetic personality she had before the fall, her friends and family say.
    "She's still the same person on the inside," said friend Jordan Guinn, 12, "Spunky, crazy, funny, smart, beautiful."
    Katie's ability to overcome depression has helped her father, Jose, cope with his own feelings of devastation.
    "I asked her when they got back from (two months of rehabilitation in) Baltimore, are you angry? Do you feel like you were violated?" Jose said. "She said, 'I don't feel mad at anybody.' She's a lot stronger than I am because I would have been angry, feeling sorry for myself. She just keeps going. That's why everybody wants to help her. She's so positive."
    Katie is a seventh-grader at Norco Intermediate School. She gets around campus in a wheelchair. She's an inspiration to her fellow students and faculty and staff members, said Principal Teri Dudley.
    "She is facing her challenges with optimism," said Dudley. "That is something we can all learn from."
    CheckWidthImage(1,850,300); Jerry Soifer / The Press-Enterprise Katie Estrella, 11, holds her dog, Marshmallow, by her Norco home. Katie fell from a horse while riding in a gymkhana competition.

    To help Katie with her rehabilitation, members of the Norco community will hold a spaghetti dinner from Saturday at the Church on the Hill. There will also be a raffle. Sponsors hope to raise enough money to buy a therapeutic exercise bicycle and renovate parts of the Estrellas' Norco home to make them wheelchair accessible for Katie.
    Her mother, Dana, said the family's medical insurance has handled the expense of the injury and rehabilitation so far.
    Katie was riding a 5-year-old quarter horse named Ryon in a gymkhana competition in the Jurupa area when she fell from the bucking horse. Her back hit the ground, breaking her T-4 vertebrae and damaging her spinal cord. She tried to get up but couldn't move her legs.
    Paramedics arrived quickly. They immobilized her neck and a put her on a backboard before taking her to Riverside Community Hospital. Katie remembers the ride with the screech of the siren.
    "It was scary," she said between bites of vanilla ice cream. "I couldn't sit up. All I could see was the top of the roof (of the ambulance). I didn't know where I was going. I just didn't know what was happening, like what's wrong with my legs. Am I still going to be able to play soccer? I wanted to know if my horse was hurt."
    The injury to Katie's vertebrae and spinal cord was severe, said Dr. Elsa Aguilar-Arbues, Katie's Anaheim Hills pediatrician.
    "There is always hope," said Aguilar-Arbues. "She is gradually recovering function. We just have no idea to what extent she'll recover."
    Aguilar-Arbues said Katie is dealing with a traumatic injury at a time in life when other adolescents "would freak out if they have a pimple ... She's faced some serious issues. She's showing an incredible amount of spirit and maturity."
    Katie was transferred to the Loma Linda University Medical Center later in the day of the accident.
    The accident galvanized her friends. They stayed up until 3 a.m. the next day, calling each other, said Norco resident Kimberly Shank, whose son, Austin, 11, is a friend. The kids made a beeline to the hospital as soon as they could. Shank said the friends were very upset, but Katie's demeanor calmed them.
    Jessica Slater, 12, Katie's best friend, brought her candy and stuffed animals.
    "It hurt a lot to see her in that condition," Jessica said. "I tried to keep her happy and joyful and not depressed. ... I did see her get depressed. I would remind her that I would always be there for her."
    "She was very strong when she was in ICU (at Loma Linda)," said Dana Estrella. "She didn't cry. When she came out of ICU, the realization that this may be something that was going to be for a long time hit. She had several days when she was very sad and cried and said, 'Why me? It's not fair. I had a perfect life.' "
    Katie overcame her sadness. "She said, 'I'm still going to do the things I enjoy. I'm going to do them differently,' " Dana said.
    Katie learned to treasure her friends even more. "I didn't know they were as good friends like that," Katie said. "That made me feel good."
    After 2½ weeks in Loma Linda, she went to Rancho Los Amigos hospital in Downey for further treatment and rehabilitation. Working with her mother, a teacher at Cesar Chavez Elementary School in Corona, Katie completed her studies to graduate from Highland Elementary in Norco.
    Katie then flew with her mother to a hospital in Baltimore for two months of rehabilitation. She stayed in touch with her friends by phone, e-mail and text messaging.
    She did so well in rehab that she gained feeling lower in her abdomen than doctors expected, Dana Estrella said.
    She was able to stand with braces and take a few steps with the assistance of others.
    "It was tiring," said Katie. "I had four hours a day of therapy when I was an outpatient. When I was an inpatient, it went from 8 in the morning to 5 at night. I was very worn out at the end of the day. My muscles were sore."
    Before she was hurt, dancing was her way of lifting bad moods.
    "When I was mad or had nothing else to do, I would dance in the kitchen," Katie said.
    She played soccer for five years with the hope of earning a college scholarship.
    Riding horses was her favorite activity. She wanted to be a professional barrel racer. She has no regrets of riding horses. She hopes to resume riding.
    "You have to try stuff," she said. "If you don't try stuff, then it's going to be boring. I'm glad I had the experience to ride horses."
    Katie directs no anger at the horse that bucked her off. Her parents will give the horse away.
    "I still love him just as much," she said.
    Reach Jerry Soifer at or 951-893-2112

    Good Morning America is supposed to be airing a little snip-it anout her tomorrow, I'll post what I see. Any publicilty on SCI is great in my opinion.


  • #2
    Isnt it amazing how kids can cope and handel things where us adults just seem to fall apart. My daughter sounds just like your niece. My daughter rides horses in therapy. It has done wonderful things for her posture and balance. If your niece is willing you should check into it, they only use very gentle horses. But anywho, tell her to keep being who she is for that will never change, stay positive, strong and confident and every door will be open to her in the future.

    Stay safe my son. See you around thanksgiving!


    • #3
      Very true. Focus on what they can do not what they can't.


      • #4
        I agree. My friend got hurt @ age 9 and it seems that she adapted pretty well. I am also an equestrian who as an SCI ( t6-t8). Just tell your niece to keep her head up and just have a positive outlook on life. She is still young and she has her whole life ahead of her. Some therapeutic horses may not be gentle. They might be used to people w/ disablities, but they can still spook or bite you when they don't something that is going on. I think your niece should check out therapeutic riding places. has a listing of riding facilties all over the country. Some therapeutic places are different from others. Some riding programs are offer PT and OT only. This is where a person works on balance, stretching, seat position. Usually someone is leading the horse. Then there is horsemanship where you groom your horse, tack it, learn how to steer, trot, walk, etc. The program where I ride at, mostly does horsemanship.