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Fay W. Whitney School of Nursing|College of Health Sciences

Catastrophic Accident Births a Passion for Nursing:
Kendra Sayles

Students choose nursing for many different reasons. But a handful of students come to the career of nursing after a dramatic event in their lives changed their original course. They bring with them much passion for the field of nursing and compassion for others who may be suffering what they themselves endured. Such is the case with Kendra Sayles...

One date Kendra will never forget

"I was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado," says Kendra. "I have lived in Colorado most of my life except for eight months when I was in Kentucky for my pre-veterinary degree internship. My entire life had been centered around horses,  training and loving them with all my heart as I was growing up. In 2010, my boyfriend's boss asked me to further refine some of his horses. So, on the morning of May 7, 2010 I worked with his 6-year-old gelding. The horse was a little nervous, but seemed to calm down and do fine after about ten minutes. Suddenly, he started bucking very hard and fast. I fell off after holding on for quite a while, but I was completely fine. I got back up, checked all his gear and bit for problems, and got back on again. But this time he took off at a full-blown gallop and tried, I believe, to buck at that same intense speed when he planted hard on his front feet and went end-over-end on top of me. Considering all the velocity that was produced from such a fast run and all his weight, 1000-1100 lbs going about 30 mph crushed me."

Sayles woke up a few hours later, and between bouts of unconsciousness tried to crawl down a dirt road and through a bar ditch. She pulled herself up onto a barbwire fence, where a wife of one of the ranch hands spotted her five hours after the accident. "Thankfully, this woman was a former EMT and kept me as stable as possible until a volunteer ambulance crew arrived." Kendra was quickly placed on a "Flight for Life" to Denver and the next day underwent her first major spine surgery. The horse had severely broken her back, her neck, the left side of her skull, multiple ribs, and her left femur. She had a partially collapsed lung, diaphragmatic nerve damage, and a traumatic brain injury - among many other injuries not mentioned here.

Sayles spent a very long time in the hospital trying not only to recover, but to survive. According to many surgeons and doctors who were involved in her case, this should have been an “unsurvivable” accident. Kendra's overall condition was consistent with extreme force and crushing injuries. Her surgeon in San Francisco states that he has seen injuries like hers before -- almost all from very high-velocity motor vehicle accidents -- "but of the patients I have worked with in the last thirty years, Kendra was the only one who did not succumb to her injuries or isn't now a quadriplegic."

A decision for nursing

Sayles was in neurological ICU in Denver until the doctors felt she was going to survive her injuries, and has been in therapy every since. "Because of the excellent nursing care I received, I decided that if it was at all possible for me to physically endure it, I would become a nurse. I chose the University of Wyoming because I lived in Riverton, Wyoming after coming out of the hospital." Kendra applied to the UW School of Nursing's BRAND accelerated BSN program, and began the program only ten days after being released from the hospital. Reflecting on the intense year of study in the BRAND program, she says "...it served as a good mental distraction for me many times through the infinitely harder journey of my recovery." Sayles, still suffering from pain daily, graduated from BRAND in August 2012 with a 4.0 GPA. 

A plan for the future

The BRAND program is for students with previous baccalaureate degrees. When asked if she might be able to combine her nursing with her previous schooling, Sayles said, "My previous major was Pre-Veterinary Science and Business Administration. The medical/technical skills surprisingly parallel nursing skills to a great degree in some instances. And a degree in business lines up with my goals of going into research and management positions." Sayles said would like to use her nursing to work with severe trauma cases, but is entertaining the possibility of going on for a Ph.D. "I want to be involved in research to help the severely injured regain an outstanding quality of life. I would love to be able to devise a way to help others like me, whose orthopedic fractures are so severe that new bones need to be implanted. Ultimately, I think that stem cells are a huge part of the solution…we can harvest them from our own bodies easily at this point...so this may be a big part of the road I travel in the future."

Words of encouragement to us all

Sayles concludes, "If I can survive the 'unsurvivable,' then truly anything is possible... there is nothing that intimidates me or frightens me anymore. What matters is what I believe, what you believe. Only YOU can place limits on yourself by disbelief in your own potential or falling prey to the discouraging words of others. We can make a huge difference for humankind, and in our own lives."

Kendra Sayles and the family dogs

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Kendra Sayles

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"If I can survive the 'unsurvivable,' then truly anything is possible... there is nothing that intimidates me or frightens me anymore. What matters is what I believe, what you believe. Only YOU can place limits on yourself by disbelief in your own potential or falling prey to the discouraging words of others. We can make a huge difference for humankind, and in our own lives."

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