It’s a day that defined my life before the accident and after the accident. I am a skydiver. I had been for about three years, but I only have a minimal amount of jumps… about 120. That may seem like quite a bit, but in the skydiving world, when you’ve been doing it for those few years, jump numbers would normally be much higher. I live in Idaho and traveled 3.5 hours to Utah with some friends to spend the weekend doing what we love. After executing a few jumps on Saturday and going out to dinner that evening, the next day — the next week-and-a- half — I don’t remember. So, this part was relayed to me from friends who were there.
My girlfriend Brenton and I planned to do a jump together, and then I was going to head home. We got on the plane and went up to an altitude of about 13,500 ft. We exited the plane and had a great time! We pulled our parachutes, they opened and we made our way to the ground. At a dropzone, there are certain places where you’re supposed to land, but if you don’t make it back to that area, you land “off” in a different area. We both wondered if we were going to make it to our landing area, and once we determined she wasn’t going to make it, she would just land off. I wish I could remember what I was thinking at this point.
A perilous journey
Initially, I apparently thought I could make it and headed in that direction. When I got close, it was clear I couldn’t make it, so I made a turn to avoid hitting a fence. It must have been a moment of panic, and I over-corrected by pulling on my parachute too hard to the right. This caused my canopy to collapse and drop me to the ground from about 30-40 feet! I slammed into the ground and lay there unconscious and unable to breathe. Luckily, people noticed me trying to land and responded very quickly. One of those people happened to be a good friend, and the other just so happened to be a paramedic who was also jumping that day. My friend, Sean, rolled me over, noticed I wasn’t breathing and said I was almost unrecognizable due to the damage to my face and jaw. Because my jaw was broken so badly, Josh, the paramedic, reached into my mouth and put his thumbs on my molars and pulled my jaw forward. That’s when I took a breath. Everything happened very quickly after that. The people around me could tell my leg and my wrist were broken, in addition to my facial fractures. Because the first responders acted so quickly, Life Flight showed up. I was talking and answering questions, and I knew my date of birth and my allergies. I was flown to the University of Utah, a Level 1 trauma center, and that’s where the real work began.
I had the following: a broken right wrist, broken pelvis in multiple areas, a broken right femur, a broken right ankle and heel, a fractured left knee and a fractured left heel. I also broke my jaw in several places, my eye sockets, my cheek bones, my nose and my forehead. I also damaged several arteries, and they were struggling to control the bleeding. I was immediately taken to surgery, where they placed a rod in my femur and pins in my pelvis to repair the arteries there. I was told things were precarious for a couple of days, but they were finally able to get things under control and stabilize me. Miraculously, I had no head trauma or spinal injuries. Over the next two weeks, I had 10 different surgeries.
The road to recovery
I was only in the ICU for a week and was moved to the surgical floor. The first thing I remember after about 10 days was that my mouth was wired shut, I had a trache tube, a collar on my neck and I was HOT! My dad brought me a small fan he attached to the side of the bed that blew directly on me, and my nurses were amazing at changing out the batteries daily when it died! I wanted the collar off and wrote constantly on the little white board asking questions about when it could come off and when I could get the trache tube out. The first surgery I remember was a feeding tube surgery. Doctors were concerned with an infected feeding tube. I had been using my left hand to write on a white board to communicate, but this is the first moment I really remember. They said they needed to take me back to surgery to fix the feeding tube, and I cried. My dad gave me a hug, and I told him I wasn’t scared of surgery. I think I was just overwhelmed. I remember having conversations with the family members that could be in the room with me, but memories of things that happened that second week come and go. I just remember what seemed like having a surgery every day after that.
Due to COVID, I wasn’t allowed any outside visitors except for one person a day. My mom, dad and sister shared the responsibility. I also had a few people on the outside working to keep my friends updated and taking care of things financially. This was so hard. Because of the visitor policy, my kids were not allowed to visit me! They are my whole world. The first things I wanted to know after the accident was what happened, if I could work and if my kids were OK. My dad finally arranged a visit with them on Nov. 8, my daughter’s 20th birthday. It was amazing and so good to see them!
Sitting in a hospital bed, I just remember that I needed to do the work to do whatever it took to get back to “me.” I am a very active person, I’m not patient and I’m stubborn! In fact, my mom would tell you from the time I was very
little that I never wanted help. I always said, “Me do it!” I started asking anyone that would see me about how to get moving again.
Determination sets in
At the first therapy session, they had me simply sit up in the bed. I asked to brush my teeth! Because of all the injuries and surgeries, I couldn’t bear weight on my left leg, my right leg and my right wrist. Basically, I only had use of my left arm. I had to work on transferring from the bed to a chair by sliding across a board with one arm. They would shift me to a wheelchair to take me on “walks,” and I would always ask to try and walk on my own two feet. They laughed and said that they were sure I could. I remember how difficult things seemed. I had never been injured before, never even broken a bone, so trying to do things that normally came so easily was so challenging. I tried my hardest when the therapists came in and never turned them away. I wanted them to work with me every chance I could get!
I was in the hospital for a couple weeks and was getting to the point that there was nothing else they could do for me. My recovery was going remarkably well, and it was time for me to move onto my next step. I had a friend researching what that would look like. I thought I would have the option to go to an inpatient rehab facility at the University, but they wouldn’t take me because of my non- weight-bearing issues. The therapists even fought for me to go there, knowing my attitude and determination would be enough to get me through, but they still declined. I could either return home and have a nurse 24/7 until I could put weight on more body parts, or I could go to a skilled nursing facility to help care for me until I could return home. I chose a facility in my hometown, but at the last minute, they had a patient test positive for COVID and went on lockdown. So, I chose a different facility, and despite being nervous, I was released from the hospital 22 days after the accident happened.
I was really nervous going to the nursing facility, mainly because I didn’t know what to expect. I also knew I couldn’t have any visitors at all and would have to quarantine in my room for two weeks. Being a pretty social person, this was more challenging than I thought. I did, however, have my phone with me.
The minute I got to the care facility, I wanted to see the therapists. I asked them to stop by every morning, even though they weren’t sure what to do with me. They brought weights so I could at least build strength on my left side. I was surprised that all my muscle went away so quickly after laying in bed for just a few weeks. I was determined to do what I could to regain it. This also kept my mind and body somewhat active. On Nov. 24, I got clearance to start putting weight on my left leg. I was so excited to get back to my rehab facility to start moving! They were ready for me when I got there, and they were just as excited for me. They got me right up on a walker, and actually had to stop me from going too far because I was pushing too hard. It felt so good!
When I was planning my arrival at the nursing facility, my dad and I set a goal to be out by Thanksgiving. After that, it was back to my hometown for an inpatient rehab facility, assuming I would need the intensity to get back to doing what I wanted. Unfortunately, that goal was shot down. The facility I chose needed more clearance to use the rest of my limbs with a two-week evaluation. I really wanted to be closer to my kids and friends, so I had to pick myself up again and push forward.
The next challenge
Here’s where the next challenge came. The day after my first walk, the facility case worker, the therapist and the facility manager came in and told me that now that I was weight bearing, there was nothing more they could do for me and it was time to go home. I was so confused, but it ultimately came down to insurance. I also found out that the inpatient rehab facility I was planning to attend also wouldn’t take me because they didn’t feel I needed something that intense anymore. Again, I was in this middle road unsure what came next. Imagine not being able to walk or use your hand, needing help to shower and then being told you don’t need that much help so you are good to go home! After talking with family, it was decided that I would go home after my next appointment to get my cast off my wrist. I could use home health to start physical therapy.
I got my wrist cast off in early December and was given weight-bearing clearance. At that point, I was only non- weight bearing on my right leg and ankle. When I got home, I was on a walker. Moving was a struggle, and I wasn’t sure how I would prepare meals for my kids, clean up or, most importantly, shower myself. I was determined. That first day home was probably my biggest struggle to date.
You would think the days in the hospital having surgery after surgery, having a feeding tube, having my jaw wired shut, and then aching to just brush my teeth might have been the hardest. Maybe the days of isolation in the care center were more difficult while laying in bed. Nope. It was being in my own home around my own things, knowing I couldn’t do what I was used to, what was normal. That night, I sat at the table with my dad and daughter, and I looked at my family pictures hanging on the wall knowing I didn’t look like that anymore. I shed a few tears. I then made my way down the hall to the bathroom for my first attempt at showering myself, and I started crying at the end of the hall, breaking down. Little did I know my daughter was right behind me. She asked quietly if I was OK. I looked at her and told her I was just tired of things being so hard! I told her I wanted to try to do it, but asked if she could stay close in case I needed her. I got in the shower and balanced on one foot to attempt a shower. I did it all by myself. Even though it was hard, I managed. From there, I began accomplishing tasks, small tasks that gave me more motivation every day.
The day after returning home, I started having home health visits. The nurse came out first to assess my feeding tube and demonstrate how to care for it. The next day, I had a visit with occupational therapy and physical therapy, but that was a dead end. After talking it over with my father, we determined it would be better for me to go directly into private physical therapy to start working on wrist mobility. My daughter works at a physical therapy place, and after talking with a therapist there, he said he was confident he could help me work on my ankle mobility. I was all for it! We got started, and really the rest is history. I gained back almost full mobility in my wrist, and as soon as I could start putting weight on my foot, we started working hard again. I’m so grateful to my therapist for fighting for me and working me hard!
What I’ve learned
Here are a few things I have gained from the experience. I always knew I was strong and able to do anything. Anytime someone asks me to do something, I always say I can do that. I didn’t realize that everyone around me saw that in me too. I didn’t realize that it was an inspiration to the people around me. It’s all about your attitude. My attitude has always been to pick yourself up and move forward. I can’t tell you to always put a smile on your face and get through it, because I can’t always do that either. I just know I just take it a day at a time. This accident taught me about my own personal resilience. My dad gave me the best compliment, and by the way has always been my biggest cheerleader, but he said to me, “I’m just reflecting on how much you amaze me. I don’t know if your drive comes from an internal source or from experiences growing up. Either way, you have a drive that I am extremely proud of.” Probably one of the most important things I have learned is who my people are. There are people around me that I thought I could always count on, that I learned I could not. There are people I have pushed away due to other circumstances who still showed up in big ways, and there are people that I had no idea would be there for me who have been my biggest supporters.
Taking this to a spiritual level, I’ve often reflected on the experience and wondered why I’m still here. There must be something I still have left to do. I have family members that passed, and I could definitely feel them watching over me. Again, my dad said to me, “Your mental strength and endurance is certainly being tested, to what end I don’t know. Perhaps there is someone you have to reach at some point, and the only way to reach them is by relating your own experiences, or at least having those experiences to fall back on.” And that is what I always want to keep with me. I want to remember that I am lucky. I want to live my life and pour into those around me. I want to make people feel understood and feel special and I want to be that person present for someone when things are hard. If there is one person I can touch to let them know they are supported, then I’ve done enough.
My favorite quote has become one by L.R. Knost
“Life is amazing, and then it’s awful, and then it’s amazing again. In between the amazing and the awful, it’s ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, exhale and relax through the ordinary. That’s living a heartbreaking, soul healing, amazing, awful ordinary life, and it’s breathtakingly beautiful. ”