A Marathon, Not A Sprint

At nine in the morning, Georgiana Burnside was preparing to ski with a group of friends. About fifteen minutes later, something unpredictable happened that would transform her life.

During spring break, Georgiana, a figure skater and sister of senior Ellis Burnside, went skiing in Aspen, Colorado. In the middle of a ski run, she skied across a rough patch of ground with stick and ground exposure. Everyone went flying in the air. In total, eight people fell but only Georgiana was injured.

Her landing was not as graceful as her usual ones on ice. She suffered a severe break to her L-1vertebrae, which is part of the lumbar section of the spinal cord. The lumbar section controls the movement of the lower body and carries the weight of the upper body. “They [doctors] said it was a million to one chance that she would land that way,” said Ellis Burnside.

Sophomore Thompson Olaimey, a good friend of Georgiana and her family, was skiing at the same resort as Georgiana. “One of her best friends sent me a message that said Georgiana had been in an accident and landed on her back really hard. I didn’t know what to think. I was just in shock that it was Georgiana who was in an accident,” said Olaimey.

Olaimey wasn’t the only one in shock. Ellis was eating lunch in Seaside, Florida, when he received a surprising phone call. “I didn’t think it was real,” said Ellis. “I thought I was imagining it, I couldn’t process it because she is the stronger, more athletic, and more determined one, could be hurt like that.”

The call was from Bryce Ramey, one of the friends skiing with Georgiana. “He told me, ‘There is no easy way to put this… your sister fell and was hurt really bad. It is a possibility that she may be paralyzed.’ After he said that, I lost it,” said Ellis.

Georgiana was quickly taken to a local hospital. Once her injury was deemed critical by a CT scan, she was airlifted to Colorado Children’s Hospital. An hour and a half long surgery successfully rebuilt her vertebrae with rods and screws. Five days after the surgery, she was transported to Craig Hospital, one of the best spine rehabilitation centers in the country.

“They fixed the bones that were shattered in my back with eight screws and two long rods and a very gnarly looking scar, but the spinal cord is a completely different story. You can’t fix nerves. Nerves can die or they can heal on their own, but it’s on their very slow time frame if they do eventually heal. This injury has so much uncertainty to it,” said Georgiana.

Being at Craig Hospital, meant she had to start her rigorous physical training, which she will require for a very long time. From seven in the morning to eight at night she is working on getting feeling back to her legs. “The training she goes through attempts to get her up on her feet to bring back nerve function,” said Ellis.

Georgiana has a five person team of physical therapists whose only job is getting her back on her feet. “We have gotten very close. We are pretty much like family,” said Georgiana. “My physical therapist Joe is the best you’ll ever find. He pushes me so hard every single day and has full faith that I will walk again someday.”

Every day, she has to wheel herself for about a mile around the hospital to get used to the wheelchair. Recently, the Burnsides made plans for ramps to be built at their house. Georgiana will most likely require a wheelchair to move about in the near future. “We have already made plans to build an electric stair lift,” said Ellis.

Luckily, Georgiana doesn’t have to repeat a quarter of school. “I had good enough grades that teachers allowed me to pass automatically,” she said. “However, I will have to have a tutor this summer.”

Getting back on the ice is something that motivates her through the physical therapy. “Skating has definitely been a huge game-changer in my recovery,” Georgiana said. “I plan to get back on the ice in one year, standing or not, because it is the best sport in the whole world and I am so thankful for it.

“There is nothing that takes more self-discipline and effort than skating,” she said. “It’s really tough and inconsistent. One day you might have a clean skate and the next day you might as well just stop because you have fallen so much.  That’s exactly what happens during this type of rehab.”

Mrs. Ann Burnside summed up Georgiana’s road to recovery perfectly when she said, “This is a marathon, not a sprint.”

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