Sunni pictured here with her father, Don, and her horse, Diva, who she was recently reunited with after a long absence. Photo Courtesy of Michelle Hecht

Sunnier Days Ahead: Sunni Hecht On Road to Recovery

Life changed forever for Sunni Hecht on May 31, 2014. This full- of-life AQHA competitor suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) when she was a passenger in an ATV accident. In the accident, Sunni hit her head on the roll bar, severely injuring the back of her skull.

At the time, Hecht was entering her senior year at Rocky Mountain College as a biology major with her sights set on applying to veterinary school. She also competed on the AQHA show circuit where her father, Don, and mother, Michelle were heavily involved. However, after the accident, Sunni’s life as she knew it came to a screeching halt.

For the past 18 months, GoHorseShow has been following and reporting on Sunni’s condition. We are happy to share the news that Sunni was able to return home on December 18th, just in time to celebrate Christmas with her family. (pictured right with her father, Don)

sunni7“We so appreciate everyday as a family,” Sunni’s mother, Michelle Hecht of Lewistown, Montana told us. “We take nothing for granted. Tomorrow is never promised and God and family and friends really do matter. We are supporting her in her goals of riding and taking a college class online. One day at a time.”

Initially injured in Idaho, Sunni was helicopter lifted to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center where she stayed for three weeks. Then, she was transferred to Billings, Montana to Advanced Care Hospital where she continued to recover for four weeks. Next, the hospital administration applied for Sunni to be admitted to Craig Hospital, a well known brain injury acute hospital in Englewood, Colorado. When she was accepted, Hecht was there from mid July 2014 until October 30th.

sunniAfter her time in Colorado, Sunni’s medical team thought Sunni would benefit from more rehabilitation before going home, and suggested Quality Living Incorporated (QLI) in Omaha, Nebraska. She was admitted there, Oct 30, 2014, and she was discharged Dec. 18, 2015 in time to be home in Lewistown, Montana for Christmas.

Eighteen months after the accident, the 22 year-old is on the road to recovery. “She has begun outpatient therapies: Speech, Physical, and Occupational therapies,” Michelle told us. “She has made a lot of gains from the help of therapists at QLI and already at Central Montana Peak Therapy.”

As far as Sunni’s current state of recovery, Michelle states that, “She is completely cognitive. Sunni has the use of arms and legs, and has her voice, and she is learning to talk all over again. She uses an iPad for social media, and to communicate – mostly giving her Dad a hard time. She eats all her food and medication by mouth now. Her feed tube was removed before she left Omaha.”

sunni8Her mother told us that Sunni’s age and excellent physical condition has helped with her recovery. “When she was initially injured, she had been in such phenomenal shape, thanks to her hours dedicated to riding that it contributed to saving her life.”

While in Nebraska at QLI, Hecht explains that Sunni began hippotherapy at Heartland Equine Therapeutic Riding Academy (HETRA). (pictured right)

“What a phenomenal place,” Michelle shares. “They helped Sunni so much – psychologically, physically, emotionally. It helped her balance, and helped strengthen muscles, and muscle memory. We have an indoor barn, and are getting it and her horse prepared to continue with trainers and friends at home. Her horse, Diva, will be ready.”

Click here to view a video of her at HETRA doing her equine therapy. (pictured below left – Sunni with the HETRA staff)

sunni5As far as Sunni’s prognosis, Michelle told us that doctors are guarded about expressing their opinions. “Every brain injury is different. The affects vary from individual to individual – outcomes vary, based on age, severity of injury, the part of the brain injured,” Michelle reveals. “Studies show that people with TBIs may continue to make improvements up to ten years after their injury. Of course, we stay positive. She continues to work hard, with a good attitude towards rehab.”

Michelle says that her family has appreciated all the outpouring of love and help from family and friends.

“Our family, our horse family, which is all of you, has prayed, sent cards, gifts, and well wishes, done good deeds for us, and has supported us throughout her ordeal,” Michelle says. “Last year, a horse show in Billings put on a ‘Ride for Sunshine’ Fundraiser in Central Montana and a horse show in Wyoming had a class that benefited Sunni. So many gestures of kindness, we can’t even mention them all.”

sunni2Close family friend and horse trainer, Scott Neuman of Billings, Montana, shares some thoughts about his student.

“In my experience, passion for something is what makes you happy; it’s what drives you crazy; it’s what keeps you up at night; and it’s what inspires you to get up and work hard all day,” Neuman says. “I believe it’s Sunni’s passion for horses that will assist her in recovery and in continued happiness. Sunni has the absolute finest parents on the planet, a network of supportive family and friends, and a passion for anything horse related. When you combine all the positive influences Sunni has, happiness and recovery are a sure bet.”

GoHorseShow would like to thank Michelle (pictured far right) for sharing her daughter, Sunni’s recovery with us. We will continue to update our readers on her progress.

Photos courtesy of Michelle Hecht

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