While most newlyweds say their first few months of marriage is the best time of their lives, Juana Andreou and her husband Jesse Hemmens are instead grappling with some of their worst moments.
Ms Andreou, a 28-year-old jockey, was rushed to Royal Melbourne Hospital in a critical condition last Monday after she was kicked in the head by a horse she was grooming at a Flemington stable.
The hospital’s sterile environment is an all-too familiar feeling for Ms Andreou’s husband Jesse Hemmens, who was in the exact same intensive care unit himself just 12 months ago.
This time, he is the one standing by his wife’s bedside.
‘Juana is everything to me, my best friend and the most generous caring person you could want as a wife,’ Mr Hemmens told Daily Mail Australia.
‘I’ve had my own health issues for a long time and had surgery 12 months ago that went sideways and I nearly died.
‘She never left my side and I’ll never leave hers.’
Juana Andreou, 28, (pictured) is fighting for life after she was kicked in the head while grooming a horse
Mr Hemmens said his wife, who has undergone two surgeries to stop the bleeding and reduce pressure on her brain, remains in an induced coma in a ‘really critical’ state.
Just three months earlier, on April 22, the pair exchanged vows at an intimate vineyard ceremony in Victoria’s Yarra Valley in front of family and friends.
Photos of the event show the couple beaming as they walked down the aisle hand-in-hand – the new Mrs Hemmens clutching a bouquet in her right palm while her husband gripped their wedding certificate.
Now, the couple’s future plans are hanging in the balance as they each face their own medical battles.
But Mr Hemmens said his bride has a fighting spirit.
‘We almost lost her last night but she’s fought back and has been stable for the day today,’ he said on Sunday.
‘She is strong willed and determined.’
The freak accident marked the end of a horror week in the racing industry which saw Ms Andreou become the third female jockey to be hospitalized within the space of two days.
Ms Andreou married her husband Jesse Hemmens at Immerse Winery just three months ago on April 22
Mr Hemmens said his ‘determined wife’ was now in a stable condition after they almost lost her on Saturday night
In the days since, devastated friends have jumped online to pay tribute to Ms Andreou and send their well wishes as she and her family braced for the long road to recovery ahead.
Mr Hemmens himself requires an urgent surgery but has pushed it back to ensure he can be by his wife’s side.
He said his bride is the ‘absolute definition of a genuine horsewoman’.
‘She really enjoys her job and the racing industry,’ he said.
‘Pet horses are her real loves.’
Mr Hemmens understood his wife’s love of horses so much he used one of the animals to propose to Ms Andreou on Christmas Day back in 2020.
Dressing a horse in a customized coat that read ‘Juana, will you marry me?’, Mr Hemmens walked the animal over to her before popping the question.
Bulla Adult Riding Club said Ms Andreou was a fairly new member, but had been ‘a wonderful asset always volunteering her time’.
The club said she has also been very successful competing, recently winning level 1 at their horse trials.
‘She has an awfully long road to recovery and her beautiful Thoroughbred, High Valley, will be missing her greatly,’ the club wrote on Facebook.
‘Please keep her in your thoughts.’
Mr Hemmens said horses were his wife’s ‘real love’. They are pictured on Christmas Day, 2020, the day they became engaged
Mr Hemmens is also currently unable to work as he battles with a long-term illness which has seen him repeatedly hospitalized over the past few years
Osborne Racing said Ms Andreou rode for the stable in both races and jump outs since she moved into the Macedon Ranges area.
‘In more recent times Juana has also done plenty of pre-training for Osborne Racing. Horses also spent a few days at Juana’s following a race to ‘chill out’.
‘She has also provided plenty of support to many of the trainers at Kyneton,’ they said.
‘We wish Juana all the best in her recovery.’
Friend Daniel Deleo said it was a ‘horrific time’ for Juana’s family and friends, with Mr Hemmens also struggling with medical issues that have seen him in and out of hospital consistently over the past few years.
He has set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for Ms Andreou’s surgery, treatment, and other living expenses for the couple during this time as they
‘Jesse is by Juana’s side, supporting his wife,’ Mr Deleo wrote in the fundraiser.
‘Unfortunately, Jesse’s medical condition will not see him working for the next 2-3 months at a minimum.
‘But Jesse can’t do this alone. Any support will go extremely far in helping support Juana and Jesse.’
Members of the racing industry have jumped online to share their well wishes for the 28-year-old jockey
Since it was launched on Thursday, the fundraiser has already garnered more than $37,000 of its $40,000 goal.
Mr Hemmens said the support they have received was ‘beyond everythings that I could have ever imagined’.
‘The fact I can take time off to care for her and not worry about the finance side has been such a weight off my shoulders,’ he said.
Ms Andreou’s injury comes after two back-to-back shocking falls in NSW which left apprentices Leah Kilner, 24, and Elissa Meredith, 27, in critical conditions.
Ms Kilner was placed into an induced coma at Brisbane’s Princess Alexandra Hospital after suffering brain injuries when she fell from Stella’s Turn at the third track race in Grafton, her home track, last Sunday.
The two-year-old horse had to be euthanized after its fetlock was completely dislocated during the fall.
Leah Kilner (pictured) was placed into an induced coma after the horror fall in Grafton on Sunday
Ms Kilner, who also suffered a broken collarbone, ribs and leg injuries, gave her family and friends a ‘wave of hope’ on Tuesday after she squeezed her mother Siobhan’s hand.
On Sunday, a week after the incident, her manager Brad Glendenning announced doctors are gradually bringing her out of sedation as they assess for any potential head injuries.
‘Leah’s breathing tube has been removed and she will be leaving the ICU and going to the High Dependency Ward,’ Mr Glendenning told the Herald Sun.
‘She will be monitored closely during this time.’
Ms Meredith was taken to Newcastle’s John Hunter Hospital with brain injuries and placed into an induced coma after her mount Starlink fell at the Gunnedah races on Monday.
Scans revealed she had suffered two contusions on her brain, but later tests cleared her of other significant injuries including fractures.
In good news, Racing NSW revealed in an update on Tuesday she was improving, saying ‘Elissa is comfortable and remains stable at John Hunter Hospital’.
Elissa Meredith,27, (pictured) is in an induced coma but is stable after falling during a Gunnedah race on Monday