Three days after sustaining a life-threatening head injury, USC equestrian team member Victoria Middleton gave her family reason to believe Monday that she is on her way to recovery.
Middleton, a junior from Marietta, Ga., flashed a “thumbs up” to her parents, Leslie and Stan Thomas, at Albany, N.Y., Medical Center after being unconscious much of the previous 72 hours, according to USC equestrian coach Boo Major.
“That was great news,” Major said Monday. “They’re slowly taking her off sedation. I don’t know where we are as far as (possible) brain damage, but we’re hoping not.”
Hospital spokesperson Sabine Needham said Middleton, 20, was still listed in critical condition Monday afternoon.
Middleton, a junior, competes for the Gamecocks’ Hunter Jumper team and was undefeated at the Varsity Equestrian National Championships with a No. 5 national seed.
She was injured Friday while bathing a horse in preparation for a show in Bennington, Vt.
According to Caringbridge, a patients’ Web site, the horse became frightened and broke loose a fencing board, which struck Middleton in the face. She was knocked to the ground, hitting her head on cement flooring, the site reported.
“They took her to the local hospital, and then (flew) her to Albany,” Major said. “She was bleeding in her brain and was unconscious, but she never stopped breathing.”
Middleton also suffered facial injuries in the accident and was heavily sedated, the coach said. She later suffered seizures, which were brought under control in the hospital’s intensive care unit.
On Sunday, Major said, Middleton “opened her eyes for a minute,” and responded when her parents squeezed her hand.
“She seems to be coming out of it pretty good so far,” Major said, “but she’s still got a long row to hoe.”
Middleton’s boyfriend, USC tennis player Pedro Campos, who was in the New York City area when the accident occurred, was at her side Monday. Three USC equestrian teammates - Nicole Bourgeois, Paige Dekko and Eleanor Kunsman - were at the horse show and joined the family in Albany over the weekend, as did teammate Courtney Reese, who had been in Boston.
As luck would have it, USC assistant coach Alixe Schwartz was scheduled to make a recruiting trip to the horse show and had flown into Albany on Friday.
“So far, so good,” Major said. “She’s such a great kid. She’s gotten more than 1,500 (messages) on Caringbridge.
“It’ll be a huge blow to our team if she’s not able to come back. She’s very enthusiastic, someone everyone loves.”
Middleton’s sophomore season was highlighted by an individual second-place finish in equitation on the flat, a team-best for 2008-09. She was 11-1-1 for the season with two MVP rides.
According to the Caringbridge site, Middleton began riding with her mother when she was 7, and has shown horses since middle school.
“This is a long way from being over, so we hope everyone who knows her sends her positive vibes,” Major said. “It’s been very scary, but what we’ve heard so far is encouraging news.”
Supporters can read updates on Middleton’s condition and leave messages in a guest book at the Caringbridge Web site: www.caringbridge.org/visit/victoriamiddleton.