By: Storms Reback
Given all that she's been through this year, if Kim Schulze successfully defends her barrel racing title at this week's Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo in Colorado Springs, CO, it would be one of the greatest comebacks in rodeo history.
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On February 16, the two-time Mountain States Circuit champion was enjoying some down time in Stephenville, Texas, before she was expected back for the semifinal round of the San Antonio Rodeo's barrel racing competition when she suffered "a freak accident" while unloading a friend's horse. As Schulze went to lead the horse out of the trailer, the horse kicked her in the stomach and sent her flying backwards.
She estimated she landed 12 feet away. "Which I'm very thankful for," she said during a phone conversation last week. "If he wouldn't have thrown me quite so far, he probably would have fell over me because I was having a hard time getting up. I was trying to stand up, and I couldn't. I couldn't breathe in or out. I asked myself, 'Am I going to die?' That thought came across my head a couple times: 'Am I going to die?' I never lost consciousness. I just couldn't get up. I knew it wasn't good."
What finally got her moving? Not concern for her own welfare but that of the horse. "I was afraid he was going to get out to the road and get run over," Schulze said. "I was like, 'I've got to get this horse caught. I've got to get up.' I knew I needed to do something."
After clawing herself to an upright position, Schulze managed to catch the horse, tie him to a fence, and drag herself into her truck to get her phone, so she could call her husband, Shayne, who was working five miles up the road. When he arrived on the scene and Kim told him she needed to go to the hospital, he knew her injury was serious.
"When I told him that, he knew there was something wrong, because I never let him take me to the hospital," she said.
The way Schulze remembered it, the doctors at the hospital in Stephenville told her that her liver had been cut but didn't say how badly and didn't respond with the sort of urgency she thought the injury required.
"They weren't moving fast or anything," Schulze said. "They were acting like it wasn't a big deal."
Finally, Shayne made an executive decision: "We need to get her to Fort Worth."
The doctors in Stephenville suggested she use Flight for Life's emergency medical transportation, but Kim balked at the idea.
"I said no because we didn't have insurance, and I'm not paying $40,000 for a helicopter ride," she explained.
Shayne and the couple's oldest son, Cade, who lives in Stephenville, drove Kim to John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, where the staff rushed her inside on a gurney and informed her she had a Grade 4 liver laceration.
That's a grade 4 out of 5," she said, "and a Grade 5 I think you pretty much die." Her liver had been sliced almost completely in half. "Had we known it was that serious, we probably would have went in the helicopter.
As severe as the injury was, the doctors never operated on her.
"If they have to cut you open, you pretty much die instantly because you bleed out so quickly," she said.
Instead, the doctors performed various procedures with a scope, including squirting some "foam stuff" into Schulze's liver to stop the bleeding and installing a stent to drain the bile that had leaked from her gallbladder into her chest.
Schulze was released from the hospital after being in the ICU ward for 10 days, but she had to return to the hospital three weeks later after the stent in her side became infected and a week after that to get an abscess in her stomach drained.
A remarkable organ, the liver is known to heal itself in eight to 12 weeks, even after suffering extensive damage. As gruesome as Schulze's injury was, the doctors insisted she stay in the area during that time.
"They said, 'If it starts bleeding again, you could bleed to death,'" she said. "They wanted to make sure it was completely healed."
While she recuperated, she stayed at saddle bronc rider Cort Scheer's house in Stephenville, where her other son, Kai, lived. Scheer's wasn't the only generosity Schulze received from the rodeo community during her recovery.
"They had benefits, fundraisers, a golf tournament, quite a few barrel races, and a silent auction to help raise money for my hospital bills," she said. "It was pretty amazing."
Only after releasing her from the hospital in early May did the doctors finally give Schulze permission to start riding again. She nearly placed in her first rodeo back on the circuit and won two rodeos and placed in a third the following week. She's been going strong ever since.
Remarkably, Schulze's recent success has come on her 5-year-old horse Holy Moly I'm Famous, not her 15-year-old horse Speedy, the 2010-2011 Mountain States Barrel Horse of the Year, who'd been dealing with some health issues of his own.
Last September, Speedy was diagnosed with an entrapped epiglottis and a displaced soft pallet.
"They really didn't think it would be a big deal," Schulze said. "They go in there and flip the epiglottis, and it's supposed to be fine in 10 days. But it wasn't like that."
A veterinarian at Colorado State University, one of six to operate on Speedy, offered a pessimistic outlook on the horse's future.
"She said that Speedy's epiglottis was so deformed it would probably never lay down flat like it was supposed to," Schulze said. "She said that his chances of coming back to the professional level were very slim, like 20 or 30 percent."
A veterinarian in Oklahoma finally solved the problem using what's known as the tie-forward procedure.
Schulze started riding Speedy in May and competing with him in June, and so far the prognosis is good.
"He won about $5,000 this week," said Schulze, wryly, "so I think he's OK."
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