All scars have a story, and Kaley Cuoco’s lower left leg bears a pretty significant one, she recently revealed on the SmartLess podcast, cohosted by Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, and Sean Hayes. Thirteen years after an equestrian accident nearly took the actor’s leg, she embraces what the harrowing injury left behind.
“I’ve got some good scars,” she said, per People. “It makes you feel like a badass.”
The entire accident is recounted by Cuoco and The Big Bang Theory creator Chuck Lorre in the oral history book The Big Bang Theory: The Definitive, Inside Story of the Epic Hit Series. As an experienced horse rider and jumper, Cuoco competed often. In 2010, while riding at a Los Angeles ranch, her horse got spooked, threw her off, and stepped on her left leg, leaving her with a compound fracture of her tibia-fibula—a “horrible, horrible, horrible break” in which her bones penetrated through the skin of her lower leg, Cuoco said on the podcast.
“I remember clear as day, because it takes a second when something is that bad,” Cuoco told Bateman, Arnett, and Hayes. “I was like, ‘Did I just fall on a whole thing of leaves?’ Because I heard all the cracking. It took me like 5 or 10 seconds to actually realize it wasn’t just 400 leaves; it was my bones.”
A compound fracture is characterized by an open wound in the skin near a broken bone, per the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS). The severity of this type of injury can vary significantly, but in “high-energy” accidents, when there is clear skin damage or the bone is sticking out, the soft tissues around the area, like the muscles and tendons, are at immediate risk of contamination (think: grass, mud, clothing) and therefore a serious infection.
Thankfully, Lorre was in attendance, People reported, and he knew a doctor affiliated with Kerlan Jobe Orthopedic Clinic for Sports Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Hospital, whom he contacted immediately. Within two hours of her fall, Cuoco was “in surgery with the best surgeons available to stop an infection because her leg was wide open,” Lorre recalled.
Prior to entering surgery, though, Cuoco was forced to face the injury’s severity head-on. “They made me sign something that said, ‘We don’t know until we get in there and see this leg, and it could come out that you don’t have it anymore,’” she said. To her relief, she woke up from the operation and looked down to find her leg still attached.
Doctors weren’t sure when she would walk again, and, according to the AAOS, it can take up to six months for a tibial fracture to heal—sometimes longer for open fractures. Surprisingly, within a week, Cuoco was walking with a boot. “I was back to work in two weeks,” she said on the podcast. “It was, like, miraculous.” To this day, she still carries the metal pins and rods inserted in her leg during surgery.
“Everything ended up fine,” she said in the oral history book. “And of course…everyone was freaking out, which I get. It scared people.”
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