JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – For the first time, Jacksonville City Councilman Ray Holt and his wife, Nanette, are talking about the accident that nearly killed their 11-year-old daughter. Natasha was sitting on a horse September 22 when it spooked and took off. The horse had no saddle, Natasha fell off and hit the right side of her head on a tree.
It happened on the Westside after the family had spent the day riding horses. The Holt's are avid riders and own three horses. Natasha's mother says her daughter's last memory was asking for someone to pass her, her helmet. She was not wearing it when she hit her head.
"The horse turned left and she fell right," said her father. When Councilman Holt saw his daughter fall, he ran to help her.
"She was lying still and I didn't feel any breath," he explained.
"I was a quarter of a mile down the road and you said, 'You got to come back, Tasha's been hurt.' I said is she going to be okay and you said, 'I don't know,'" said Nanette Holt, recounting what her husband told her over the phone right after their sixth-grader fell.
The Holt's says thankfully a bystander had just been certified two weeks earlier in CPR and was able to start compressions to get Natasha's heart beating again. She was airlifted to UF Health and then transferred to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Wolfson Children's hospital.
"She had fractures of the bone here, she had blood here, she had a fracture here and back here a fracture of her skull," Nanette explained, pointing to her head as she recalls the severity of her daughter's head injuries.
They say doctors could not tell them if Natasha would even recover, and if she did, what kind of permanent damage she may have to her brain.
"You're just watching a monitor that's telling you whether she's got a chance to survive or not," said Nanette. She refers to a machine that was measuring brain pressure in her daughter's skull while in ICU.
Her husband added, "Whenever it [the pressure number] would get to 20, I'd step out in the hallway and ask [the nurses], 'Is anyone paying attention to this?' They would say, yeah, we are."
The Holt's say doctors had told them, if the pressure gets too high, their daughter would not survive. They say there were times when the number would spike to 50.
"We had a lot of doctors come to us and say to us, we hope you believe in the power of prayer," said Nanette.
The Holt's turned to their church family and to Facebook to ask for prayers, which they say is the reason their daughter recovered. As Natasha's pressure dropped steadily, at one point, her condition turned for the worse. Her mother says Natasha got an infection and became very sick.
"Her blood pressure dropped to 70/20 and at one point she had a fever of 109," she said.
Nanette says Wolfson Children's hospital brought in the top infectious disease doctors in the country to help figure out which antibiotics to use to treat their daughter's blood infection. She says," They had to be brilliant, and they were."
After four or five days in a medically induced coma, doctors removed Natasha from a ventilator that was breathing for her.
"We had to see if she could do that, it's a scary moment. They have to allow her to start breathing on her own and you just kind of hope that's going to happen," said Ray Holt.
Natasha was able to breathe on her own. Her mother says, Natasha started to whisper, "I thought I was at a horse show? Where are we? What happened? I told her, she had come off a horse and she said,"why didn't my helmet protect me?" You didn't have one on," Nanette recalled telling her daughter.
"We handed her the white board and she wrote, "I love you" and handed it to us and that's when we knew that's my girl," Nanette explained tearfully. "That's the one that was there with us on Saturday," she said describing her daughter's ability to speak and understand.
They say they knew that was a huge step in knowing if their daughter had any permanent brain damage.
After 24 days in the ICU, Natasha was released from the hospital. Not only can she walk, read and write, but she is now doing just about everything she could do before her fall.
Her parents says she does not have any damage to her brain. She walked with me on her family's rural property on the Westside. She showed me how she is training her dog, cooking, feeding and grooming her family's horses. She says she is anxious to ride again, but her mother says her doctors want her to wait.
The horse that threw her belongs to a family member and is not one of the horses Natasha usually rides. Referring to his daughter's physical therapy sessions, Ray Holt said, "She was doing pirouettes the other day and the therapist said I don't know how much more we need to do of this."
"She's back. We've had so many doctors say we can't believe it, but we're so happy for you," said Nanette. "They kept reiterating to us, if she wakes up you need to be ready. Well the road hasn't been long or that hard," Nanette said thankfully.
It's why the Holt's believe their daughter's recovery is a miracle. "God saved her," said Ray Holt.
The Holt's say they can't thank the doctors, nurses and staff at UF Health and Wolfson Children's hospital enough for all they did to help their daughter. They also say they will be forever grateful for their family, friends, neighbors and the strangers who dropped off gifts for their daughter and snacks for them at the hospital, not to mention all the food that was cooked for them to enjoy when Natasha was released from the hospital.
They say they hope their daughter's story will also serve as a reminder to parents and children about the importance of wearing a helmet, not just when riding a horse, but also when skateboarding or riding a bicycle.
"We always wear helmets, this is the first time in her life that she wasn't wearing a helmet, literally,"said Nanette.
"You do that one time, you take that risk that one time, that could be the one time that something goes wrong," cautioned Ray Holt.
The Holt's say their daughter is nearly completely back to her old self. They says she is a bit quiet when she is in a social setting because she is a little self conscious about people knowing what happened to her, but other than that, she is the same daughter they had before the accident.
While, they say they were always grateful for their children and the blessings in their lives, their daughter's accident has helped put life in perspective.
"How did we get here? How did we get this beautiful, talented, amazing, loving child back after that horrible accident? I feel like we've been given something so precious that I want that gratitude to be the first thing people know about me for the rest of my life. I am forever grateful," said Nanette.
Nanette tells me when her daughter was in the coma, she would whisper in her ear, telling her stories about when Natasha attended summer camp at Marineland. She says the stories about dolphins always brought down the pressure on her daughter's brain. She says they calmed her.
Natasha dreams of working with dolphins one day. Marineland heard about those stories, and is now planning a special event to honor Natasha and all the doctors, nurses and staff that helped her. As we learn more details about what Marineland is planning, we will pass it along to you.