published Thursday, June 6th, 2013

5-year-old Greer Cofield is back in the saddle after recovering from horse crushing her skull

Greer Cofield, 5 at the time, competes in the Georgia State Horse show just a month before a horse kicked her, crushing part of her skull.
Greer Cofield, 5 at the time, competes in the Georgia State Horse show just a month before a horse kicked her, crushing part of her skull.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
  • photo
    Imaging shows pre- and post-operative views of Greer Cofield's skull after she was kicked in the head by a horse in October 2012.
    Photo by C. B. Schmelter.
    enlarge photo

  • photo
    Gregg Cofield puts his arms on his daughter's, Greer Cofield, 6, shoulders during a ceremony honoring Greer as the Tennessee Champion for the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals at Erlanger hospital on Wednesday. On Oct. 8, 2012, Greer was kicked in the head by a horse and has made a remarkable recovery.
    Photo by C. B. Schmelter.
    enlarge photo

WHAT IS CRANIOFACIAL SURGERY?

Craniofacial surgery encompasses a broad spectrum of reconstructive procedures of the cranium and face. The objective of these procedures is to correct deformities of the face and skull bones that result from birth defects, trauma or tumors.

Source: Craniofacial Foundation of America

CHILDREN'S MIRACLE NETWORK

Children's Miracle Network Hospitals raises funds for 170 children's hospitals across North America.

Every year, the CMN Hospitals Champions program identifies a child with a remarkable medical story from each state. These 52 Champions represent the 32 million treatments provided each year at 170 Children's Miracle Network Hospitals.

Greer Cofield will serve throughout 2013 as the Tennessee ambassador for Children's Miracle Network. This is the third year in a row that a patient at T.C. Thompson Children's Hospital at Erlanger has been named as Tennessee's champion.

Sources: Erlanger Health System, Children's Miracle Network

Her nickname in the pediatric intensive care unit was "Little Cowgirl."

Nurses and physicians could tell Greer Cofield was a tough tomboy of a 5-year-old. Her legs sported the nicks and bruises of a girl who loved to play outside.

But as Greer battled for life on a ventilator, the right side of her skull and face crushed by a horse's hooves, no one was sure if she'd survive -- much less run and play again.

On Oct. 8, 2012, Greer had gone to horseback riding lessons at a farm not too far from her Cartersville, Ga., home. She and her mother, Shannon, ventured into the pasture, searching for Greer's favorite horse.

What happened next is remembered only in snippets: A different horse, charging and rearing.

A flash of light. And Greer, limp and face down in the grass.

"When I rolled her over, it looked like something from a horror movie," said Shannon Cofield. A huge cut stretched across her daughter's forehead, and her face was smashed inward. There was more and more blood.

Corey Davidson, who owns the farm, saw the commotion in the pasture and sprinted with his wife to Shannon and Greer's side. He ripped off his Carhartt jacket and pressed it to Greer's bleeding head, then kneeled in the dirt and prayed out loud. It was all he knew to do.

The ambulance had to be driven right into the pasture, where Richard Whatley and other Bartow County EMS paramedics worked to stabilize the girl.

"She would cry out in pain, but after a little while she slipped into unconsciousness," Whatley described.

A Life Force helicopter landed shortly after and the crew flew Greer to T.C. Children's Hospital at Erlanger.

Scans of Greer's skull showed a web of pulverized bone, with fractures at the base of the skull, her cheek and across her eye socket and forehead.

She was put in the hands of Dr. Larry Sargent, a reconstructive surgeon and founder of the Tennessee Craniofacial Center.

Over roughly a four-hour surgery, Sargent painstakingly pieced together Greer's face with plates, screws and special bone-mesh he designed.

"Dr. Sargent put our daughter back together like a puzzle and made her beautiful again," Shannon Cofield said. "Many people have asked if Dr. Sargent had seen a picture of Greer prior to her accident. To clear the record, the answer is no."

Day by day, Greer's parents watched as their little girl awoke and returned, first communicating by nodding, then talking.

Specialists anticipated months of speech therapy for Greer, and rehabilitation at an Atlanta facility. But after assessing her, experts decided she would need only outpatient therapy.

"Doing all that repair, you still have to say that Greer made a miraculous recovery. We're amazed at how kids can recover from a brain injury," Sargent said.

Ten days after the horse kicked her, Greer walked out of the hospital.

And eight months later, the paramedics, helicopter medical crew, the nurses and doctors who helped Greer gathered around her in the Life Force hangar at Erlanger.

On Wednesday she was pronounced as the Tennessee Champion for Children's Miracle Network, an organization that raises money for children's hospitals across the country.

Greer, shy at first, clung to her parents and big sister. The only evidence of her ordeal is a small half-moon scar around her eye.

Greer's parents grew emotional as they recounted the family's journey to this point, reciting the long list of medical staff and supporters who helped Greer survive and recover.

Crews lingered after the ceremony to take photos with Greer. The paramedics marveled as she pranced around the hangar; they had not seen her since she was lying limp with IVs in her skin.

But Greer could not stay for too long. She had to prepare for horseback riding lessons later that day, back at the farm.

It's hard for Davidson to remain composed as he thinks about how far she's come from that bloody day last October.

"In my mind, I thought, 'This is it for Greer.' I thought we were going to lose her out in that pasture."

He paused, swallowing tears. He took a heavy breath and looked at Greer, who was watching a helicopter take off outside the hangar. She waved to the crew.

"God's got big plans for her," he finished.

Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at kharrison@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.

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