By Bill Finley
Patrick Canchari climbed aboard a horse earlier this month at Canterbury Park and led it briefly around the backstretch. That may not seem like a lot, but after he suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car wreck in March of 2020, one that doctors told his family could keep him in a vegetated state the rest of his life, it was a huge step in a recovery that continues to defy all predictions.
“He's been making some good really progress,” said his sister and legal guardian, Ashley Canchari. “Him getting on the horse really shows a lot when it comes to his recovery. Just being able to balance himself on the horse without support was a big step.”
For Canchari, who began riding in 2011 and whose brother Alex is currently riding at Prairie Meadows, March 17, 2020 was supposed to be like any other day. Scheduled to work some horses, he was driving to Turf Paradise and was only a block away from the track when his vehicle collided with another car.
The situation was extremely serious. He broke his neck and suffered a grade 3 diffuse axonal brain injury, considered one of the most severe forms of traumatic brain injury.
The Canchari family, unable to visit Patrick in the hospital because of COVID-19 restrictions, was presented with a dire prognosis. And with Canchari still in a coma two months after the accident, it was hard not to expect the worst.
“Basically, his neurocritical team said he most likely he would be vegetated and paralyzed the rest of his life,” his sister said. “They said that most of his progress would come within the first year and then after that it would fizzle out.”
He still has a long way to go. Ashley Canchari said that her brother is not able to live independently. Even if he is walking with a cane, someone needs to be at his side in case he loses his balance. She admits that, cognitively, he's not the same as we were before the accident and that there are issues with his memory. But what is so encouraging is that he continues to get better every day, something many experts saw as unlikely if not impossible. That's why getting up on a horse was such a big deal.
“That he continues to make progress is why we are hopeful that the next step will be that he will get to a point where he can be as close to being as independent as possible,” Ashley Canchari said. “We've worked with a lot of his specialists and doctors, world renowned specialists, and they are just amazed at the progress he has made.”
Out of the hospital, Patrick moved in with his sister in October of 2020. His friends and family, refusing to give up hope that he could get better, looked everywhere for answers.
“We sought out a lot of alternative therapies and treatments, which have helped,” she said. “We used supplements and modified his diet, down to his drinking water. We put a lot of research into trying to help him recover.”
Canchari believes that her brother would not have made the progress he has had his friends and family given up hope that he could recover.
“I was adamant from get go that we needed to keep a positive mind set and believe that anything is possible,” she said. “We needed to remain optimistic despite what everyone else was saying. If you get stuck in a doom-and-gloom cycle then everything else is impacted. We just tried to keep an optimistic mind set and truly believe these milestones could be reached.”
That Canchari got aboard a horse does not mean that he is going to ride in a race anytime soon. But it did provide his family with another ray of hope.
“We are starting off pretty slowly,” Ashley said. “He hopes to ride again but there are still a lot of things that we are working on. He's already done a lot that doctors and specialists said would never happen so I am confident that anything is possible.”
She hopes that he will be able to walk on his own within a year and lead a more independent life.
“For him to walk independently, without the assistance of cane or a walker or anything else, would be a huge development,” she said.
She said that her brother has set a goal to return to the track as an exercise rider some time in 2024. If he is able to do that, then, maybe the next step would be for him to ride in races. Can it happen? It would mean defying the odds, but no one is ruling that out.
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