By Jeanne Sager
COOKS FALLS September 9, 2005 Perhaps it was the hands of angels, or maybe the hearts of hundreds of local residents that lifted Kerry Horton back up from a 30-foot fall.
When the Cooks Falls girls brand new pink and black bicycle caught on the decaying wood of the old O&W railroad bridge, John and Mary Jos little girl lost control.
Holding tight to the handlebars, Kerry Horton went over the edge, landing on her right side in the ravine some 30 feet below.
I was washing his bottles, Mary Jo Horton said, clutching her 3-month-old son Jackson in her arms. The door was open . . . all of a sudden out of the clear blue I hear, Call an ambulance.
Horton looked up to see the grim face of family friend Gregg Robinson.
I didnt hear a car crash or a tree fall, no reason why wed need an ambulance, Horton recalled. I didnt even know shed gone off on her bike.
Trying to stay calm, Robinson repeated his request, with steely force in his voice.
Horton dialed 911, and told the dispatcher an ambulance should come quick to her home on Cooks Brook Road.
When they asked why, she said shed have to call them back.
She hung up the phone and demanded Robinson answer her questions.
He led her across the street, a short walk around some trees and through an overgrown field to the wooden bridge that crosses the brook.
I walked on the bridge and looked down, and there was my husband sitting with her, Horton recalled. The two of them were just looking up at me . . . it was a look Id never want to see again.
The second oldest Horton child had broken her right leg, her back, and worst of all, her neck.
Her body was limp in her fathers arms.
A state worker at an institution in Binghamton, John Horton knows enough about medicine that he knew he shouldnt lift his daughters lifeless body from the nearly dry creekbed.
But when he saw her flip-flop lying on the bridge and looked down to see Kerry lying helpless below, he rushed haphazardly down to the bottom.
He yelled, and she said Daddy, Im cold, Mary Jo related. He knew he shouldnt pick her up, but there was his kid, saying, Daddy, Im cold.
John Horton held Kerrys body up out of the water until rescue workers from the Cooks Falls-Horton, Roscoe-Rockland and East Branch fire departments as well as the Roscoe-Rockland Ambulance Corps could make their way to where shed fallen.
Word quickly spread through town, thanks in part to an away message the Hortons oldest daughter, 14-year-old Katelyn, typed in a mad dash before running from the house to her sisters side Gotta go, my sister fell off a bridge.
By the time a helicopter landed on the bridge that connects Stewart Avenue to Gulf Road in Roscoe to airlift Kerry to Albany Medical Center, there were people lining the streets, Mary Jo recalled.
I couldnt tell you who any of them were, but Im aware of the fact that there were tons and tons of people lining the street for her, she said.
Arriving at the trauma unit in Albany, the Hortons soon learned Kerrys right femur was shattered. Shed broken three vertebrae in her neck, destroyed L2 in her back and compressed L4.
The right side of her body was covered in bruises, and the handlebar of her bike was imprinted in her neck.
Doctors admitted Kerry to the pediatric intensive care unit, scheduling immediate surgery to rebuild her leg, putting in a plate, a rod and several screws.
Next up was the back, but on first review, neurosurgeons decided the risk of surgery was too great.
For 12 days she wasnt allowed to turn her head by the time they discovered she could, Kerrys long brown hair was matted and tangled.
Kerry would have to spend the next three months in bed, doctors said, lying flat on her back.
The fall happened on June 21. Three months bed rest would have kept the Roscoe Central School sixth grader in a hospital bed in her parents dining room until late September.
Her parents were willing to do what it took to get their little girl up and moving again. OK, they said, but were going to need nurses to help with her care.
While the familys insurance company arranged for nurses, Horton was transferred to Niskayuna to a pediatric wing of a nursing home in early July.
For Mary Jo Horton, this was one of the toughest parts of the ordeal. Each day she would travel 40 minutes from the Ronald McDonald House in Albany with Jackson, who was born just 19 days before Kerrys fall.
Walking through the wing to Kerrys room, she saw terminally ill children, kids on life support, children holding their arms out to her.
She shivered as she remembered seeing what could have been her daughters fate.
Instead, Kerry received some bad news that served as a mixed blessing.
When she was brought back to Albany Medical Center for another X-ray before she was scheduled to return to Cooks Falls, the neurosurgeons had decided her back was worse than theyd previously thought.
[He] told us her back was so bad theyd have to do surgery, Mary Jo recalled.
Kerry was crestfallen. The 10-year-old was looking forward to going home, even if it meant lying in bed.
She was ready to get away from hospital food and strange nurses poking her at all hours of the night.
But the next morning, July 13, Horton was rolled into a six-hour surgery on her back.
They took bone from her hip to reconstruct L2 and installed two rods and screws into her back.
After surgery, Kerry had to learn to sit up again.
On July 16, three and a half weeks after the accident, with double pain meds, she sat up for the first time a painful ordeal that preceded exhausting physical therapy.
Most back patients, they have them up the next day walking around, but she couldnt with the leg, Mary Jo explained. She couldnt put weight on it.
But after another week in the hospital, Kerry was allowed to go home, just in time for her 11th birthday on August 9.
She cant participate in gym class or return to karate (she was nearing her black belt test).
With the rods in her back, she cant twist or bend, but Kerry is up and walking.
She can cuddle with her baby brother, mash on the buttons on her Playstation 2, even lean down to scoop up one of the familys small dogs.
I asked [the doctor] about rollercoasters and things, and he said shes fine, she should have a full recovery, Mary Jo said. She does kind of creak now like an old lady, she gets up and shes stiff, and it takes a couple of minutes for her to work the kinks out.
But after an ordeal that nearly took her daughters life, Mary Jo said shes found happiness in the small things she rejoiced the first time Kerry sat up in a wheelchair, she was positively ecstatic the first time the 11-year-old used a walker to cross the room alone.
Both Kerry and her parents credit the support of their community for her fast recovery.
Letters poured in from the students at the Roscoe school one teacher even entered her name in some sort of well-wishers network which sent cards from as far away as Africa.
A pancake breakfast was held by the Cooks Falls-Horton Fire Company, a can was set up at the Roscoe Diner and the First National Bank of Jeffersonville employees held a dress down day to help the family with some of the day-to-day expenses not covered by medical insurance from gasoline for trips back and forth to Albany to food for John and Mary Jo while they were far from their own kitchen.
Because Mary Jo had just come home from her own hospital stay after delivering Jackson, money was already tight shes been on maternity leave since his birth, and John had used up a portion of his vacation time to be home with the new baby.
But every little bit helped, Mary Jo said.
Money donated by the vacation Bible school at the United Church of Roscoe helped Kerry rent a scooter at the Wayne County Fair, a small thing that helped a very sick child still experience some of her summer vacation.
Other help came from the church members themselves, as well as members of the Methodist Church in White Sulphur Springs, the Salvation Army, the Roscoe school PTA, faculty and students and even the Bright Lights Yoga Studio in Cooks Falls.
Donations also went toward Kerrys Playstation 2, which the family bought when they thought she would have to be on her back for three straight months, unable to get up and run around like most kids on their break from school.
Some of the money was given to another family in need a couple with a young baby in the pediatric intensive care unit at Albany Medical Center.
Whats that movie, Pay it Forward? Mary Jo asked. Our town was so good to us, it was just good karma to pass it on.
Both Mary Jo and John are Roscoe Central School graduates, high school sweethearts who will celebrate 17 years of marriage this month with their four children Kerry, Jackson, Katelyn and 7-year-old Cieli.
Mary Jo said shes amazed by her community.
When her other daughters gripe about the day-to-day hassles of living in a small town, she says, the next time you want to blame the town for something, you remember what they did for your sister.
Im very thankful that they helped me, Kerry added.
I like living here, she said with a grin.
Although she regretted missing out on 4-H camp and a trip the family had planned to Six Flags Great Adventure, Kerry said shes actually had a happy summer.
One thing that definitely made me happy in the hospital was Jackson, she said. He would just lay in my bed with me and make me laugh.
Her parents were also her champions, taking turns managing life at home and staying by her side.
They told her everything would be OK, Kerry said.
Now it is, and Kerry has a photo album full of pictures from the hospital, pictures of her favorite nurses and the friends she made in the pediatric wings of the hospitals.
Scrawled across the front is a title Kerrys Summer Vacation.