Four words that changed mum’s life
Until a few months ago, the greatest moment of Amanda Sweeper's life was the day her beautiful daughter Abbie came into the world.
It's now been bumped to second, replaced by the bittersweet image of her 10-year-old regaining consciousness in intensive care following a catastrophic fall from her horse.
"She looked at me and mouthed the words 'I love you, mummy' when I thought for sure we'd lost her," Amanda told news.com.au.
Abbie was competing in her pony club's gymkhana in Queensland's Lockyer Valley when her and her family's lives changed forever in a split second.
Now, her devastated family and friends are asking Australians to help her get home, in lieu of taking a punt at the Melbourne Cup next week.
On July 14, during the final event of competition, Abbie's horse became spooked and the junior equestrian champion tried to direct him one way, while he furiously pulled the other
Her mum Amanda watched in horror as her little girl lost balance and fell.
"She was immediately non-responsive and wasn't breathing," Amanda recalled.
"Luckily two of the parents there are paramedics and revived her. The ambulance was there six minutes later and she was intubated."
Abbie was airlifted to the Queensland Children's Hospital where an MRI revealed a severe spinal cord injury and more than 100 brain bleeds.
"The prognosis is that only 10 per cent of her spinal cord is intact so she won't get function back and the likelihood of her breathing on her own again is very low," Amanda said.
The bubbly, active and horse-mad little girl from the bush is now a tetraplegic who'll require ventilation for the rest of her life, and whose home for at least the next year is the ICU.
"Our lives changed in an instant, the moment she hit that ground," Amanda said. "We have to start anew with a huge amount of unknowns. Everything we knew has gone."
The schoolteacher's days no longer begin with making breakfast and preparing lessons for her class, but rather quickly getting dressed and rushing from Ronald McDonald House to Abbie's hospital beside across the street.
She and Abbie's dad Russell have been maintaining a vigil since the freak accident, as well as helping their daughter come to terms with the realities of her life now.
"She asked us how long it would be until she got better," Amanda said.
"We had to be honest with her and explain that with her body, this might be as good as it gets, she won't be the same. But her mind, that's the same.
"She's terrified. She is so scared. She's always been an active kid, so active, and now she's trapped in a body that won't work.
"Watching my child lay there in such an impossible situation is just devastating."
So severe is her spinal cord injury that she'll remain in acute care for at least a year, with her heart rate still falling dangerously low as the messages from her brain to vital organs are interrupted.
"She can't wipe away her tears when she cries," Amanda said.
"She blames herself. She says that it was her fault. She has a lot of big questions about why this has happened. At the same time, she's being very brave and strong.
"Abbie is much stronger then me, I think. I'm not coping well. I'm just taking it 12 hours at a time."
Amanda's mission is to get her daughter home, but that will take time and cost a significant amount of money.
A GoFundMe page has been established to help meet the mountain of costs and Abbie's friends and family are asking Spring Racing Carnival punters to consider a donation instead of placing a bet.
"The option of putting her into a care home is just not an option. I'm not doing it. And so, we have to get her home. Her father Russell and I will do whatever we can."
Policy dictates that a patient on a home ventilation system can't be more than 40km from the nearest hospital.
Abbie's house in Laidley in rural Queensland falls outside of that scope, and so relocating to Brisbane once she's well enough to leave hospital looks inevitable for the time being.
"Losing my home and my job, anything else really, it doesn't matter, it doesn't compare to if I'd lost my child.
"Hopefully the policy will change so we can get her home to Laidley one day. Until then, we'll do what we can to provide for her and make things work (in Brisbane).
"It would be really great to get her back to the community she knows, near the horses that she loves, surrounded by all of her friends and schoolmates. The idea of ripping her out of that and isolating her in a new city where we don't have any of that … I would move anywhere to provide for her, I'd do anything, but it'd be great to let her stay in her community."
Abbie knows she faces a long road ahead but her one wish is to eventually leave the four walls of the hospital and go home.
What that home looks like is uncertain, for now.
"My life's aim now is to provide her with a quality of life and a reason to not give up," Amanda said.
To donate to Abbie's cause, visit her GoFundMe page