Finding the Blessings: Ann Gressette
After sustaining a spinal cord injury in 2019, Ann Gressette focused on looking for the blessings in every day and returned to activities she loves like riding horses and gardening.
For the past 25 years, Ann Gressette, 60, has been riding horses. What started as an interest became a passion.
“Riding was my midlife crisis,” Ann jokes. “I went on a trail ride with a friend. It was one of those perfect October days where the sky was blue, and the sun was shining. I remember thinking it was the best thing ever.”
On April 11, 2019, Ann was riding her horse Apache at Doodle Hill Farm, a horseback riding school in St. Matthews, South Carolina. As they were doing a round of barrel jumps, Apache unexpectedly stopped before a jump, sending Ann falling forward toward the grass.
“I knew I had landed funny and told the group to call an ambulance,” Ann recalls.
After five hours of surgery at Prisma Health Richland Hospital in Columbia, South Carolina, Ann received news that she had sustained an incomplete C-5 to C-7 spinal cord injury. She transferred to Shepherd Center’s Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program on April 17.
Initially, Ann was apprehensive about rehabilitation and all the unknowns she faced.
“My initial fear and apprehension turned into trust in my therapy team,” Ann says. “Eventually I was able to say, ‘Whatever you got for me, I’m in!’”
Being a lover of the outdoors, it is no surprise that Ann’s favorite part of rehabilitation was recreational therapy, where she could participate in activities like gardening and riding horses.
“The [Anna and Hays Mershon] Secret Garden was such a gift,” Ann says. “My therapy team would hold onto me so I could stand, and I would pull weeds and plant flowers. It made me feel like it might be possible for me to do these things in the future when I got home.”
In June, Ann moved into the Spinal Cord Injury Day Program, a comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation program. While there, she took full advantage of the opportunity to participate in equine therapy.
“I was told by the barn manager that nobody had been to equine therapy as much as me,” Ann laughs. “The support the Shepherd staff gave me to start riding again with assistance was the key to getting me in the saddle again.”
Ann discharged from Shepherd in August 2019. She returned to the Day Program in June 2020 for additional outpatient therapy and is now enjoying the results of her hard work.
“My capabilities are so much better now,” Ann says. “I really do give Shepherd the credit for laying a great foundation, making the most of every day I was there for the first four months. I also have to mention the unsung heroes who provide patients personal care like helping with showers. They are a blessing and an important part of the training aspect of therapy.”
Today, Ann attends equine therapy at Great Oak Equine Assisted Programs in Aiken every Friday. She reminds herself to focus on how far she has come.
“I had cancer in 2016, and this is something I learned then,” Ann says. “The blessings are always there. Sometimes you have to look for them a little harder, and sometimes they don’t look how you thought they would, but they are there. If you stay focused on looking for the blessings, it makes a big difference in how everything else goes.”
Written by Damjana Alverson
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neurological conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 740 inpatients, nearly 280 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.