Jockey Isabel Tompsett speaks of her recovery from an horrific fall at Fakenham and her plans to return to the Norfolk course
An horrendous fall at Fakenham Racecourse last May left champion amateur jockey Isabel Tompsett fighting for her life.
Ten months on she spoke to reporter ADAM LAZZARI about her progress, an emotional reunion with the Norfolk medic who saved her life and her plans to return to the Fakenham course.
Everybody from Norfolk racing fans to the Queen has been following the determined recovery of Isabel Tompsett since her fall at Fakenham.
At A lady amateur riders' handicap race on May 22 last year she flew straight over the top of her horse and landed on her head at an estimated speed of 35mph. The horse then fell on top of her.
Peter Huntchinson, a consultant at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, where Miss Tompsett was treated for several weeks, described it at the time to be 'as hard a knock as a human can take and survive.'
And senior doctor at Fakenham Racecourse Piers Reinhold, who lives in Stibbard, near Fakenham, said her head injuries were the most severe he has seen on a jockey in the 30 years he has worked at the course.
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But the 29-year-old's progress, 10 months on, is better than anyone could have imagined.
The Carmarthen-born jockey is currently recuperating in Oaksey House, a residential rehabilitation centre for jockeys at Lambourn, Berkshire, and is able to visit her mother Bridget's sheep farm in Llandeillo, south Wales, every week.
Miss Tompsett suffered brain damage, cracked two vertebrae, broke her nose and collar bone and injured her knee and elbow.
She was in a coma for six weeks and was temporarily completely paralysed down her left side. She also lost sight in her left eye.
She said: 'I think I'm doing well. The treatment I'm getting at Oaksey House is brilliant. They are giving me good rehabilitation exercises.
'I'm still partially blind in my left eye and that affects my balance. But movement in my left leg and arm are much better now. I don't feel any pain.
'I can't remember lots of things and I don't remember anything at all about the fall.'
About four weeks ago, Mr Reinhold, who resuscitated Miss Tompsett twice immediately after the fall, paid her a visit at Oaksey House.
Miss Tompsett said: 'It was great meeting Piers. It was quite emotional too. I thanked him for saving my life and showed him my puppy Primrose Lilly.
'I do feel lucky, in some ways, that I am still alive. But it also seems a very long process to get back to where I was.'
Mr Reinhold said: 'Isabel is a remarkable woman. With brain injuries you never know what sort of a recovery a person will make. The neurologists at Addenbrooke's gave her a very gloomy outlook. But now she is almost totally self-caring.
'She looks like she will make far better progress than anyone could ever have hoped for.
'The last time I saw her she was deeply unconscious in the back of an ambulance, so to see her laughing and smiling was amazing.
'She took me to the gym where she rows at least a kilometre each day. She also rides around on a quad bike at her mother's farm.
'People at Fakenham Racecourse often ask me about her and we would love to have her back there for a day.'
Miss Tompsett's mother explained that there are hopes that Isabel will, eventually, make a full recovery but said nothing was certain.
She is not expected to race again but it is hoped that she will, one day, be able to ride a horse and return to her full-time career as a vet.
Mrs Tompsett said: 'Isabel is making steady progress and it is difficult to say what sort of recovery she will make but the signs are promising.
'There is a place in Cambridgeshire which specialises in brain injury rehabilitation, called the Oliver Zingwell Centre. We would like to take her there but that is a long way off at the moment.
'We are giving her goals to work to. One is to be a bridesmaid at her sister Holly's wedding in the autumn. Another is to visit her brother Ralph, who lives in New Zealand. And we will be going on a family holiday to Majorca in June. She needs these things to look forward to.
'We will also look to eventually take up Piers's offer to go back to Fakenham Racecourse for a day. But she is not ready for that yet.'
Miss Tompsett has been supported throughout her progress by the Injured Jockey's Fund and there has also been messages of support from the Queen and 16-times champion jockey Tony McCoy, who was riding at Fakenham on the day of the accident.
Miss Tompsett said: 'The Queen wrote me a letter saying she was sorry to hear about my awful fall at Fakenham and that she hoped that I would get back to doing what I loved.
'Tony McCoy visited me at Oaksey House. He remembered seeing me ride a few times and from weighing rooms. He told me how good he thought I was and wished me good luck. To hear that from him was amazing.
'My boyfriend (John Llewellyn) visits me as often as he can and the support I've been getting from everyone has been absolutely amazing. It helps me every single day on my road to recovery.'