Published on February 27, 2020

Heart surgeon puts her love of people and animals to good use

Dr. Paape with Dream Riders and Trevor on a horse

Living the Dream

Dr. Kerry Paape always knew she wanted to be a doctor. She just didn’t know if she wanted to care for humans or animals. Now she’s found the best of both worlds.

After joining Owensboro Health in the summer of 2019 as a cardiothoracic surgeon, it didn’t take Dr. Paape long to find the Dream Riders of Kentucky. Her passion for helping people and taking care of animals are put to good use as she helps the Dream Riders fulfill its mission to provide therapeutic riding and rehabilitation to people with disabilities..

Watching a child who is unable to stand or speak get up on a horse and seeing their face light up as they make laps around the ring is truly heartwarming to Dr. Paape.

Working with therapeutic riding horses

She is a self-proclaimed horse enthusiast and spends most of her free time at the Dream Riders’ barn taking care of the horses. The grooming process allows her to get to know each horse and helps her identify their individual health issues. She enjoys discussing the animals with the Dream Riders’ veterinarian, Dr. Steven Wills, and helping to treat and care for them. But her job as a Dream Riders volunteer is to do anything that needs to be done — from mucking stalls to moving equipment.

Dr. Paape is happy to be part of a program that cares about both the participants and the horses. Dream Riders has an internationally known instructor who is helping them become a nationally certified therapeutic riding program. Dr. Paape feels this is the perfect life for these horses, as the program hinges on their well-being and happiness.

“Life is not about you. If you want to be happy, make someone else happy. We must have a purpose-driven life to serve these children. This is why we put our heart and soul into all we do here. We are not promised tomorrow.” — Benny Clark, President, Dream Riders

A rewarding experience

Volunteers and staff experience instant gratification every day in seeing the progress the children make. But the difference that this program makes is felt even more deeply among the families it helps.

Robert and Jennifer Brown’s son, Trevor, has been riding since the first year the program started. When he was younger, he could do almost anything, except ride a bike. One day after he had been in the program for a while, Trevor was excited to show her how he could ride a bike. Jennifer thought this would mean more skinned knees. But then he just took off! By riding the horses each week, he had built up the strength necessary to accomplish his goal of riding a bike. The Browns are incredibly thankful for what the program still does for Trevor at the age of 30.

Dream Riders accepts up to 70 volunteers each year. The volunteers gain more than experience and training with the horses — they also get a front-row view of the change that they are making in kids’ lives

About the Dream Riders of Kentucky

Brothers Benny and Mike Clark founded the Dream Riders with a mission of caring for children with disabilities in the community. Benny had a grandson with Down Syndrome and Mike had a child with it as well. They admittedly did not have a clue what they were starting 17 years ago but knew they wanted to change some lives.

Benny has a very important reminder for the entire Dream Riders team: “Life is not about you. If you want to be happy, make someone else happy. We must have a purpose-driven life to serve these children. This is why we put our heart and soul into all we do here. We are not promised tomorrow.”


Read more

This story is from the Spring 2020 issue of Lift magazine. For more stories, check out our latest edition.

About Owensboro Health

Owensboro Health is a nonprofit health system with a mission to heal the sick and to improve the health of the communities it serves in Kentucky and Indiana. The system includes Owensboro Health Regional Hospital, nationally recognized for design, architecture and engineering; Owensboro Health Muhlenberg Community Hospital, the Owensboro Health Medical Group comprised of over 200 providers at more than 20 locations; three outpatient Healthplex facilities, a certified medical fitness facility, the Healthpark; a surgical weight loss center and program, and the Mitchell Memorial Cancer Center.

On average each year, we have 16,000 inpatient admissions, deliver 2,000 babies and provide the region’s only Level III NICU. Owensboro Health physicians perform nearly 24,000 surgical procedures, including nearly 200 open-heart surgeries. Our physicians and staff have 70,000 Emergency Department visits, more than a million outpatient visits annually. Visit our home page for more information.