It was the word she feared her daughter might never say again.
Little Charlotte has been in a tremendous fight for her life throughout the past fortnight, having undergone major brain surgery and been put in an induced coma.
She only began responding to what was going on around her a week after coming out of the coma, and while she has just begun speaking a few words and taking food, she still can’t move the right side of her body.
Life has completely changed for her little family from Gisborne in regional Victoria, who face a long battle ahead of them.
Charlotte Footner and Rachel were visiting Rachel’s horse, as they often did, at lunchtime on Wednesday, August 24 when Charlotte was critically injured.
The toddler was sitting in a wheelbarrow playing, as she had done many times before, while Rachel’s horse was tied to a fence a few metres away eating.
Charlotte leaned out of the wheelbarrow to grab something and it toppled over.
The little girl flew out of the wheelbarrow and ended up behind the horse.
Frightened by the sudden movement, the horse kicked out, striking Charlotte’s head.
Rachel said the combination of the Charlotte falling and landing in that spot, and her horse reacting in that way, truly was a freak accident.
“It was a really big shock to see.”
Charlotte initially made eye contact with Rachel after being hurt, so Rachel thought she could have been okay.
“But then she started fitting, and I just saw blood everywhere. Her skull started to swell and very quickly she became unconscious,” Rachel said.
Charlotte had a hole on the left side of her head where the horse’s hoof had gone into her skull and impacted her brain.
Her skull was fractured from ear to ear.
Charlotte was airlifted to the Royal Children’s Hospital and went into surgery almost immediately.
Doctors weren’t sure if she would make it.
“Obviously the first question we asked as soon as we got there was, ‘Is she going to be OK? And they were very honest, they just said, ‘Look, we actually can’t answer that’,” Rachel said.
Paramedics on the air ambulance had told Rachel that Charlotte had reached the deepest level of unconsciousness.
After surgery Charlotte was placed into an induced coma.
She didn’t wake up for five days, and when she did open her eyes, she wasn’t responsive to the world around her.
“There was just nothing there, basically,” Rachel said.
It was only on Monday – a week after she had woken up – that she began registering what was going on.
“And then a bell went off, and she just looked at me,” Rachel said.
“And that was when she was starting to become aware, which was amazing.”
On Tuesday, Charlotte called Rachel “Mummy”.
“That was just the most amazing thing,” Rachel said.
“I called everyone, I was just so happy.”
Rachel and Charlotte’s father Brett had had no idea if their formerly “headstrong” and “caring” little girl would speak again or have any memory of her life before the accident.
“I didn’t know if she was going to remember who I was,” Rachel said.
Charlotte has continued to slowly progress since Tuesday, and can now put some words together, take sips of water and mouthfuls of pureed food.
But she still can’t move the right side of her body.
The long, long road ahead
No one can be sure what the future holds for Charlotte, but Rachel says doctors are hopeful that with intensive therapy and support, she could eventually make a full recovery.
“It’s really hard to try and get your head around that when you can see that she’s struggling so much,” Rachel said.
“We have just got a long, long road ahead of us. I don’t know how many months or years it’s going to take.”
Charlotte is going to need ongoing physiotherapy and speech therapy.
It is expected she will be in hospital for months, including her third birthday in November, ahead of extensive rehab.
The young family’s life has been thrown into complete disarray.
Rachel and Brett have barely left the hospital since the accident, only taking turns to visit the Ronald McDonald House to shower and take short shifts sleeping.
Rachel, a hairdresser, will not to return to work for at least the rest of 2022.
Brett, who works in civil construction, has also put work on hold for the moment.
It’s not known when he will be able to return to work. He had only recently started a new job.
Rachel said the pair had not had much capacity to think about how their new reality would impact them financially.
They have solely been focused on supporting their little girl.
“Now, I am realising that, we’re going to be up for big bucks,” Rachel said.
“Every bit we can get to help her would be amazing.”