HOUSTON — Two years ago, Jaylin Smith was lying in a hospital bed and listening to a doctor tell her he would probably have to amputate her leg.
After demanding he fix it, Jaylin went through nine surgeries, countless hours of physical therapy and unspeakable pain.
And now it's all paying off. In a big way.
Last night, Jaylin showed her lamb at the Houston Livestock Show and it was named grand champion. That means the lamb will go for big bucks when it's auctioned off next week -- money that could pay for Jaylin's college education.
The trophy will be added to a room full of prizes and banners and belt buckles from dozens of stock shows and nationwide competitions.
It's the culmination of a journey that was nearly cut short on a rainy night in rural North Texas two years ago.
"It had just rained, so the roads were really bad, and I was probably going faster than what I should have been,” Smith said.
"So, when we went around the corner I wash-boarded really bad, and so I tried to correct it really fast. So, then we like, rolled twice. And right here is where my bone was crushed,” she said, pointing to her left shin.
"And my sister was there and she was freaking out. Because she tried to get it (the ATV) off of me and she couldn't because it was too heavy."
"And like, the windshield's cracked,” she said of the Ranger ATV her family still uses to haul goat feed on their property. “I messed it up pretty good. And myself."
That would be an understatement. Because by the time a helicopter brought her to Dr. Bryan Ming at JPS Health Network in Fort Worth, skin and muscle were dead and dying too. Because of the rural location of the accident the ATV had been resting on her crushed left leg for 45 minutes.
“A mangled extremity. Type 3B open tibia fracture,” Ming said of the damage. The bones of her lower leg weren’t just broken; they were shattered, and the wound was embedded with dirt and debris.
"The next few days, they're like, 'You're going to have to consider amputating your daughter's leg.' And I told them we weren't doing that,” Jaylin’s mom Leslie Walker said. Walker, along with her husband and children, run Walker Show Goats in Eastland.
"And he was like, 'OK, we need to talk about amputation of the leg, and I just like lost it. I was like, 'What...no,'” Smith recalled.
"It's not something they always want to hear,” Ming said. “But it's something that I think they need to hear. That they've got a long road ahead of them, regardless what option we choose."
"Dr. Ming said, 'You're going to have to consider this,'” Walker said. “And I said 'I'm not. You're gonna find a way to fix it.'"
Long story short, yes, Ming did fix it: He rebuilt the crushed bone, supported it with steel rods, moved muscles and covered Smith's open wound with skin grafts from her upper thigh.
"Oh, Dr. Ming, he's my absolute favorite,” Smith said. "No doctor would have put me together like he did."
"He's so much more than a doctor to us,” Walker said. “I mean, we're forever grateful.”
Dr. Ming wasn't finished yet.
When Jaylin's lamb won reserve grand champion at the Fort Worth Stock Show last month, she was surprised to learn he was one of the buyers at the auction.
“At Fort Worth you sell and then you go in the back and take pictures with your buyers,” Walker said. “And here comes Dr. Ming, and I'm like, 'Oh my God, did he just do that?'"
What he did was show up in his cowboy hat and add his own money to the winning bid by an investment group, Endeavor Acquisitions, LLC and Acclaim Bone and Joint Institute. This gave Smith top dollar — $25,000 — and sent a message to his patient at the same time.
"To let them know and to let her know how proud I am of her and what she's accomplished. Not just through this situation but everything in her life,” Ming said. "It's one of those success stories that keeps you going, when days are tough. She's definitely the type of patient that has been really special to me and my family."
As for the tough country girl who has endured so much pain, her days of caring for goats might eventually come to an end.
Now Smith says she wants to become a physical therapist, for humans. Her own medical journey has motivated her to want to help other accident victims piece their lives back together too, just like the doctor who helped save hers.
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