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Deb Reconnects with Her Passion

  • Author: Deb Oistad
  • Date Submitted: May 22, 2018

“This is something that means a lot to her. To see her smile when she’s on the horse is pretty cool.”

CCH Rehabilitation Services helps patient find new meaning with horses

Horses have always been a part of Deb Oistad’s life. And although a catastrophic accident with a horse she was training in August 2015 left her wheelchair-bound with a traumatic brain injury, horses are now giving her a new lease on life. And her therapy team at Campbell County Health Rehabilitation Services is making that reconnection possible.

Ryan Schrock, physical therapist at CCH Rehabilitation Services “Unfortunately, when you have a traumatic brain injury your life is forever changed,” said Ryan Schrock, a physical therapist at CCH Rehabilitation Services who has worked with Deb for the last two years. “Therapy is geared toward maximizing independence and function.”

CCH Speech-Language Pathologist Kim Kelleher has been working with Deb for about nine months to help her regain communication skills to be a more active participant in her own life. Due to her traumatic brain injury, Deb favored her right side and rarely advocated for herself vocally. For those who don’t know, speech-language pathologists (or speech therapists) work to prevent, assess, diagnose, and treat speech, language, communication, and swallowing disorders in children and adults.

“I was looking for her to come out of herself more and be an active listener instead of passive,” Kim said. “But I felt like I was failing in getting her motivated.”

Having worked with equine therapy in the past, Kim recognized that for some people, the horses could help the improvement process immensely. Kim had a hunch that reintroducing horses into Deb’s life would help her rediscover joy in her life as well.

“I wanted to see if that would inspire her to rejoin the human race,” Kim said.CCH Speech Language Pathologist Kim Kelleher

Finding a facility that would be able to accommodate Deb’s high level of disability was not easy. Kim started doing some research and ultimately found the Reach 4A Star Riding Academy in Casper with specialized therapy staff that could help to meet Deb’s unique needs.

“We collaborate with her other therapists a lot,” said Karol Santisteven, co-founder and executive director of the Reach 4A Star Riding Academy. “Deb is our most complex rider we have.”

But even though she’s had just four sessions, Karol said the progress has been amazing to watch.

“I’ve never seen those changes happen as fast as they have with her,” Karol said. “This is something that means a lot to her. To see her smile when she’s on the horse is pretty cool.”

For Kim, helping her patient not only regain physical capabilities but to also find joy in life again is just part of what drives her in her work. She even accompanied Terry and Deb to the first couple of lessons, so she could determine what therapies Deb would need to support her horse riding. Coordinating with Karol and the CCH rehabilitation therapists has helped Deb continue to progress.
Now all of her therapy is centered around the equine therapy. Physical and occupational therapists have worked to loosen her leg muscles and help her regain core strength, so she can sit in the saddle.

“We have seen phenomenal progress with Deb since she started riding,” said Kim, who has seen the progress firsthand in speech therapy sessions.

“She will now meet you at midline and I went to the left-field and she would answer me,” Kim said. “It’s put a pep in her. This has given her a new purpose.”

The progress has been swift for having had just four riding sessions, but Kim said reigniting Deb’s passion for horses has been key.

“It kind of perks her up,” said Terry Oistad, Deb’s husband and caregiver. “It’s been really helpful. We’re making a 300-mile trip for 30 minutes, but it’s worth than 300-mile trip. It’s the motivation for the rest of the month.”

Now Deb and Terry make the trek to Casper about once a month for Deb to have equine therapy at the Reach 4A Star Riding Academy. For Terry, he knows the equine therapy has not only improved Deb’s life but his own as well.

“It helps her mental health,” Terry said. “She’s had horses all her life. It’s what she did for 50-some years. The fact that she could get back to that was a huge improvement.”

Recovery from an injury or illness condition requires hard work and commitment. Our compassionate and experienced staff at Campbell County Health Rehabilitation Services in Gillette, Wyoming helps each patient reach their goals in a team-oriented atmosphere. Therapists and their patients form a partnership, and set their goals together, working to help each patient function at their highest level, whether at home or work. To learn more about the services available at Campbell County Health, visit or call 307-688-8000.

Article written by Kim Phagan-Hansel, Wyoming freelance writer

CCH Deb Oistad Rehabilitation Services 2018