Alex Peyer and I meet for the interview on a sunny afternoon. I encounter a cheerful woman who impresses me with her positive attitude – despite there being plenty of reasons to be struggling with what happened. On said 2 April 2017, Alex suffers various breaks. The serious riding accident results in an 8-hour emergency operation, an artificial coma, three months of rehabilitation and further operations. I ask Alex about the injuries she suffered.
«My right hip is broken and I suffered several pelvic fractures. The x-ray showed a complete mess and the doctors weren’t able to put me back together again like before».
Any idea how heavy the horse was?
«I’m guessing around 500 to 600 kilos. Plus there was the momentum of her toppling backwards. The doctors said it was lucky that she fell on my abdomen. Had my upper body been crushed, the organs would have suffered or my ribs would have gone through my lungs. I probably wouldn’t have survived that».
Did you suffer any other injuries?
«That’s the crazy thing. Although practically every bit of my lower body was broken, the rest of me was fine. I didn’t even have concussion».
What else is crazy is that Alex remains conscious throughout the whole thing.
«I could see the horse falling on me. My first thought was: I’ve got to ring my friend and tell her to feed my cats as I’m definitely not leaving hospital again today (Alex laughs). Yep, I still remember everything. Later, I was flown to University Hospital Zurich by Rega helicopter».
«I should call my parents.»
The accident happens at 5 pm. At 7 pm, Alex is still fully conscious and lying on the operating table. Shortly before the emergency operation, she rings her parents to tell them what has happened. Just before the anaesthetic, she checks the time to keep track of how long the operation will take. It takes eight hours. The surgeon later explains that they were forced to interrupt the operation because Alex was losing too much blood – four litres in total.
«Without the donation blood I would have died that night», Alex says matter-of-factly.
After surgery, she has poor blood values. The doctors decide to put her in an artificial coma. This is followed by three days in intensive care. After being fully conscious before the operation, the subsequent days and weeks are a blur.
«I was drugged up to the eyeballs and pretty high. Later on, I was transferred to a regular ward. After ten days, my blood values were good enough to manage a second operation. During that, the surgeons finished everything they couldn’t the first time round because of the massive blood loss».
What happened next?
«A few days after the second operation, I was admitted to rehabilitation. This was where I sat in a wheelchair for the first time. After a few weeks, I was allowed to stand. But only on one leg. And without putting more than 15 kilos of weight on it. Another four weeks passed before I could do the same with the other leg. Other than that, I was in a wheelchair for the entire three months I spent in rehabilitation. To this day I need a wheelchair whenever I’m out for longer stretches of time».
«Alex, you need to be patient.»
It’s been more than a year since the accident. How are you today?
«So-so. I hobble around on crutches and the doctors aren’t sure it will ever get better. As I said before, I need a wheelchair for longer stretches. I also tire easily and need to lie down quite a lot. Sitting is very painful, but thanks to my special sitting cushion, I can put up with up to six hours. One of my legs was paralysed for a while. This shortened the muscles, sinews and tendons a lot and might require another operation. So for the time being, I can only work 20 per cent. It’s really getting to me because I would like to work. The doctor’s keep saying I need to be patient. But patience isn’t one of my strengths (she smiles) ».
Has your attitude towards donating blood changed since the accident?
«Not really. Practically all my family members are donors. But it was difficult for me».
«I spent a few years abroad and worked as a guide in South Africa, so I couldn't donate blood in Switzerland. Today, I can’t be a donor either, even though I’d love to. Anyone who's has a blood transfusion isn't allowed to donate».
«Everything happens for a reason.»
At the end of our conversation, I ask Alex about her plans for the future. Her reply is remarkable.
«Whenever I can’t change things, I try to make the best of it. I also truly believe that everything in life happens for a reason. But of course it sucks – especially now, when temperatures are rising. I want to be outdoors and active. I want to hike, cycle or travel. Like taking the train from Moscow to Beijing. Stuff like that. Luckily you don’t need to be able to walk to ride a horse».
You’re riding again?
«Yes, but only as a form of therapy for the time being».
Aren’t you afraid?
«No, not at all. I was discharged from rehabilitation, got the green light from the doctors and was in the saddle the next day for a trial run. At least I now get to do a riding therapy to strengthen my back. I’m on a horse for an hour a week. Initially, I didn’t last longer than 20 minutes because of the pain. But now it’s a lot better already. The therapist holds the horse by the lunge line while I hang on to a belt. But I need to build up my core muscles more. Maybe I’ll be able to ride a horse alone one of these days. In rehabilitation, I was asked to put my dreams for the future to paper. I put: 1. I want to ride again, 2. I want to walk again. In that order».
Alex Peyer is representative for many. In Switzerland, the daily demand for blood is at around 770 donations. To date, it has not been possible to make artificial blood. Blood is needed after accidents, to treat cancer patients and for coronary diseases. So the following still applies:
Donate Blood, Save Lives!
14 June 2018 is world blood donor day.
Want to donate blood? Simply go to the database (in German, French, Italian) of the Swiss Red Cross and make a blood donation appointment near you.
People like Alex will be grateful.
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