For Hampton woman recovering from brain surgery, horsing around is one form of therapy

| Wednesday, April 10, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Heather Abramovic has a short list of goals: be able to hold her bouquet, walk down the aisle and dance with her new husband at her October 2014 wedding.

Abramovic, 23, of Hampton, hopes to be able to achieve her goals with the support of the community and help of her horse, Darius.

Abramovic and Darius, a 20-year-old, brown Belgian warmblood, once competed together in hunter and jumper competitions, but that changed in December 2011 when a brain hemorrhage led doctors to diagnose Abramovic with a cavernous angioma deep in her brain.

A cavernous angioma is a cluster of weak blood vessels that can cause seizures or bleeding, and in Abramovic, it was located on her thalamus near the brain stem.

“I basically had a ticking time bomb in my head,” said Abramovic, who is currently a senior at Indiana University of Pennsylvania studying human resource management.

The only known cure for a cavernous angioma is surgery, which was too risky at the time for Abramovic, so she changed her lifestyle and made an effort to live as healthy as possible.

After another brain hemorrhage in June 2012, Abramovic opted to try a less invasive gamma knife surgery in August in an attempt to create scar tissue around the blood vessels to prevent future bleeding.

But one month later she had her third brain hemorrhage and the following month marked number four.

While in the hospital following minor brain swelling from her fourth brain hemorrhage, she suffered from another hemorrhage that was so severe it shifted her brain midline 6 millimeters.

On Dec. 4, doctors performed a risky brain surgery to remove what they are hopeful is the entire angioma, and when Abramovic woke up in the ICU, she had two drains in her head and her left side was paralyzed.

However, in the weeks and months following surgery, Abramovic has learned to walk again with the help of a leg brace and cane and regained most muscle functions.

“My left arm is being stubborn,” she said “The brain is a slow healer.”

While her week includes close to 12 hours of physical and occupational therapy, Abramovic hopes to incorporate some time with Darius into her therapy.

“The bond between horse and rider, it's an unspoken language,” said Abramovic who is working with her family, friends and therapists to prepare Darius for a new job as a therapy horse.

Abramovic explained that when on a horse, she is forced to use both of her legs on either side of the horse's back and is unable to use her stronger leg to compensate for her weaker one. But for Abramovic, just being near Darius is therapy.

“It's physical therapy as well as emotional therapy for me,” she said.

“Horses can really sense your emotions, your feelings.”

Abramovic said she has come as far as she has because of the support of her doctors, therapists, family, friends and fiancé, Ron Gross, 23 of Regent Square.

She also credits the community that has stepped up to host fundraisers and make donations to fund Heather's Fight for Therapy Fund to allow her to continue the expensive outpatient physical and occupational therapy needed for her recovery.

“Certainly it has been very difficult,” said Abramovic's mother, Lynn, also of Hampton. “Through this we have also seen many blessings. Her strength and courage through this has given us strength and courage and her faith has strengthened ours.”

Abramovic said she lives by her family's motto “faith, not fear” when she gets discouraged, which motivates her to work toward a full recovery. She hopes one day to be in a position to help others with her story.

“I'm very blessed and very lucky to be where I am today,” Abramovic said. “I have a very strong faith and I know God is going to use me for great things.”

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or

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