The day Abbie’s life changed forever


A Queensland mum owes the life of her 10-year-old daughter to a mystery couple - strangers who kept Abbie Sweeper alive until the rescue chopper arrived after a horrific fall from her horse.

A sunny winter Sunday at Laidley Pony Club turned to the darkest of days for the little equestrian champion and her family.

Tragically, the gymkhana tumble has left Abbie with no movement in her body, she is now a quadriplegic and unlikely to walk again. But mum Amanda says every day she is thankful for the two "angels", believed to be off-duty paramedics in the crowd, who came forward and breathed life into her only child who was non-responsive after hitting the ground.

"I was watching her compete. Her horse Panther didn't bolt or rear and the fall didn't look dramatic. Abbie has fallen off many times so I didn't immediately panic as I thought she would get up and dust herself off," primary school teacher Amanda told The Sunday Mail.

Abbie Sweeper was an equestrian champion before the fall.
Abbie Sweeper was an equestrian champion before the fall.

But the awkwardness of the fall left the talented Queensland-representative with a brain bleed and a seriously damaged spinal cord. Remarkably, there was not a broken bone but the other internal injuries were life changing.

Abbie from the Lockyer Valley has been in the hands of the PICU staff at the Queensland Children's Hospital for the last couple of months and is likely to spend at least a year in hospital.

Her mum has had to leave her job to be close to her daughter at Ronald McDonald House.

Abbie Sweeper remains in hospital.
Abbie Sweeper remains in hospital.

Dr Michaela Waak, paediatric neurologist and intensivist at the QCH is certain that the off-duty paramedics who were at the pony club saved Abbie's life.

"The spinal cord is a part of the brain and controls many functions like the heart rate and breathing. If they had not resuscitated Abbie she would not have made it alive to hospital," Dr Waak said.

The medical expert says Abbie's injury has been very severe and will have significant impact on her life.

"We do not know if Abbie will ever breath for herself or walk again. Her injury was high in the spinal cord. But she may gain some small movements that will help her quality of life," she said.

A neurocritical care service is currently being developed at the QCH.

Abbie was in a coma and when she first came out of it was only able to communicate by blinking. Doctors were unsure if she would ever speak due to her brain injury but then out of the blue when her tracheotomy was cuffed she was able to speak in sentences. Her first sentence was "Hi mummy, I love you mummy"," Amanda said.

The club was celebrating its 60th birthday and she had been selected to cut the cake that day. As she walked up the table to do the honours she was beaming with pride. Life doesn't get any better for a 10-year-old equestrian.

But that moment is frozen in time as the last time the schoolgirl walked.

Abbie Sweeper, 10, is searching for the couple that stayed by her side after she fell from a horse at a gymkhana. Picture: AAP Image/Claudia Baxter
Abbie Sweeper, 10, is searching for the couple that stayed by her side after she fell from a horse at a gymkhana. Picture: AAP Image/Claudia Baxter

"Abbie's father and myself have been very open and honest with her about her condition. We tell her that many jockeys that have had catastrophic falls have made miraculous recoveries. The medical staff at the hospital have been so wonderful keeping up her mood and she has had the best of specialist care. Abbie is very resilient and still maintains a sense of humour. Sometimes she plays dead with the nurses and they all have a laugh," she said.

The schoolgirl has no idea how close she came to that being a reality.