Sun, Oct 07, 2007 - Page 17 News List

Heart, interrupted

An ill-timed kick from a horse sends an 11-year-old girl into a rare form of cardiac arrest that only occurs if the heart is jolted in the 15-millisecond pause between heartbeats and almost always results in death


In the spring of 2006, just about the time a then 10-year-old Delana Ringer was learning to jump 0.5m fences on Cocoa 4,800km away, a college acquaintance lured Burton from Maine to Albany, New York. For Burton, the sell was an enticing one: Clifton Park, where he would soon begin shopping for a home, was a good place to raise kids. And it was just a few kilometers from a stable where his younger daughter, Allison, a horse nut, could continue her lessons.

April 29 was a Sunday morning, and Delana and her mom loaded Cocoa into the trailer and drove 32km to the competition at the Double B Farms in Rexford, New York.

The event drew a big crowd to the two-arena locale, maybe 300 people. The riders' parents were there, armed with camcorders and cameras, filling out the packed crowd of kids, horses and ponies on a thick, overcast day at the start of the long competition season.

Delana was set to ride a little past 1pm. When her time came, she would mount Cocoa and guide the 21-year-old pony through a series of turns and jumps, tapping him with her crop, posting up and down in the saddle in time with his hoofbeats - up-down, up-down ... thump-thump, thump-thump.

If she was good enough, fast and precise enough, she would take home another ribbon to add to the dozens displayed on her bedroom wall. Hopefully, that ribbon would be another blue.

As was her habit, Suzanne scanned the crowd for the medical team. She was a mom. That's what she did. She spotted them on the far side of the arena where a girl had been thrown from her horse.

Delana stood by Cocoa, her hand loosely clasped around his reins. Suzanne stood maybe 2m away, talking to another mother whose daughter stood by her own pony, preparing to compete. The pony's backside was turned to Delana, which was nothing unusual in the tight press of bodies.

Suzanne knew horses, though. So when she saw the pony flatten his ears in distress, her worry spiked.

He's going to kick, Suzanne thought. And Delana was right in his path.

The pony took two steps back, leaned his weight forward and bucked high with both hind legs. The animal's two saucer-sized hooves slammed Delana square in her chest, about 15cm below her left collar bone.

The little girl pitched back, but her grip on Cocoa's reins kept her on her feet. Suzanne was immediately at her side.

"It hurts," Delana whimpered. The color in her face was fading fast.

Inside her chest, her heart had stopped.

Two women - both nurses from Vermont who'd seen what had happened - rushed to the scene. One told Suzanne she had to let go of her daughter. They had to get her on the ground. She was seizing. By the time they'd laid Delana on her back in the dirt, the little girl had lost consciousness.

Suzanne's heart slammed. She pleaded with God.

I'm not ready. I'm not ready to let her go. Please.

"Medic!" she yelled, knowing that the Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) was too far away, probably too far to even hear her. "I need a medic!"

Precious, wasted time raced by.

Ten, 20, 30 seconds.

A minute. Two.

John Burton's eyes scanned the crowd of bodies, people and horses.

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