Emily Claire Jackson Sanders has been skiing since she was old enough to walk. Her father enjoys taking his wife and three daughters to Steamboat Springs, CO to ski during the winter months. So it was unusual when 20-year-old Emily did not come down the mountain one evening while skiing with her sister.
“It was Christmas Day 2010 and the family had gone separate ways after Christmas morning,” said Don Jackson, Emily’s father. “Emily and her sister, Molly, had gone skiing. A while later, Molly called me and said that after one run Emily never came down off the mountain. I told her that they probably just missed each other and to take the lift back up to see if they could find each other again.”
Molly called her dad back after still not being able to find Emily, and together they went to the ski patrol office to see if she had gotten hurt. When they arrived at the ski patrol office, an employee pointed out Emily’s skis in the foyer. That is when they knew things were serious.
Emily had been found unconscious by another skier along the ski route and taken to the local emergency room. The family hurried to the ER where they met with a counselor who allowed them to quickly see Emily, who was still unconscious, before she was taken via helicopter to Denver General Hospital. The family then drove to Denver to meet her at that hospital.
“Emily was in the Intensive Care Unit where they did testing and monitored her cranial pressure,” said Don. “It was very serious - she was in a coma for seven days. As soon as we were able, we had her transported via air ambulance to the Neuro Intensive Care Unit at Memorial Hermann – Texas Medical Center.”
After four days at the Neuro ICU, Emily finally regained consciousness and was ready to be transferred to a rehabilitation hospital. She had a long, difficult recovery in front of her. Her brain injury resulted in a number of conditions, including post-traumatic amnesia and the inability to speak. Don was familiar with TIRR and the hospital’s reputation, and insisted that she be transferred to TIRR Memorial Hermann.
“When Emily arrived here at TIRR, she was very confused – she remained confused for a large portion of her stay at the hospital,” said Dr. Cindy Ivanhoe, Clinical Professor, McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation specialist. “Initially, we couldn’t predict how she would do. But she is a good example of what can happen!”
While at TIRR for four weeks, Emily began making tremendous progress. “TIRR gave her exactly what she needed,” said Don. “The constant work that the therapists did with her made a huge difference. We could slowly see that she would be able to walk and talk - many of the ‘worst-case scenarios’ we feared were eliminated.”
After TIRR, Emily eventually went to outpatient therapy at TIRR Memorial Hermann – Kirby Glen. She was a junior at Chapman University in Orange, CA when she had her accident, and she really wanted to go back to school. By June of 2010, she was able to take classes at Houston Community College, and in the fall, she returned to Chapman. After graduating with a degree in English, she returned to Texas and earned a Master’s degree in Special Education from Texas State University.
In addition, Emily re-connected with a high school friend, and the two were married in September 2018. The ski patrol employee and hospital counselor in Colorado (who, as it turns out, are married to each other) attended the wedding and are family friends to this day.
Today, Emily is a middle school teacher. She has also never stopped skiing. In fact, the Christmas after her accident she was already on the slopes again. She is also planning to write a book to serve as an inspiration to other brain injury patients.
“Emily is making great things happen despite the experience she was handed,” said Dr. Ivanhoe.
For the 33rd consecutive year, TIRR Memorial Hermann is recognized as the best rehabilitation hospital in Texas and No. 2 in the nation according to U.S. News and World Report's "Best Rehabilitation Hospitals" in America.Learn More