Thursday, July 23, 2009

Skydiving accident

This picture, taken last month, is just to say, "I'm still jumping, nine years later." The accident was on June 18, 2000, and I had more than 2,000 skydives at that time. I started jumping when I was 47, and it was just a fluke that I made a tandem, but then I got hooked. That, however, is a story for another time.

I was filming a 4-way group, similar to the last picture in this post, with a camera mounted on my head. After opening, I noticed that the area where I wanted to land was a little far away, but I wasn't too worried. I just headed into the wind and flew that direction. Hmmm. I noticed the wind was pretty strong, shortening up my trajectory across the ground. No worries, though; the landing area was plenty big.

But as I got closer to the ground, the wind became stronger, and I wasn't going to clear the barbed-wire fence below me, as everyone else on the plane had done. I hesitated, not knowing what to do. In my mind I saw myself hitting that fence and becoming entangled in the heavy barbs. When I was about twenty feet off the ground I was sure I would hit the fence, so I made a turn close to the ground, to avoid it.

Any skydiver knows that you should NOT turn close to the ground, because, just as planes do, when you turn you lose altitude, or lift, in order to make that turn. I slammed into the ground, hard, my right hip taking the brunt of the hit. I knew I was hurt and tried to get my parachute under control in the wind while moving as little as possible. People came running towards me. "Are you hurt?"

"Yes. Bad. Call an ambulance."

They did, while my friends took my gear off me and I lay there waiting. When the ambulance team arrived, they told me they would need to move me to a backboard to get me in the ambulance. When they did, I felt the most excruciating pain and was immediately whisked to the hospital. What had happened is that my shattered right sacrum had severed the internal iliac artery. I felt the blood filling my stomach. The ambulance staff put a heavy lead blanket over my hips, which probably saved my life. I learned that an artery will clot if you can immobilize the patient. A Flight for Life helicopter got me to a larger hospital.

I remember the bright lights as I was wheeled into surgery. The doctors told me they would stabilize the bleed and if possible, fix me at the same time. I woke later to my surgeon's face inches from mine, and he said, "We fixed you up; you're going to be just fine." I slept.

When I woke again, I was surrounded by family and friends. My husband stayed with me until he knew for sure I would survive. I had an external fixator drilled into my hip bones, crossing in front. The surgeon had gone into my pelvis through a small incision on my right butt cheek and put in two 7-inch-long pins, needed in order to fix the shattered sacrum. I had six other breaks in my pelvis on top of the sacrum injury. A plug had been placed in the severed artery instead of reattaching it. No artery down that leg any more.

I spent a week in the hospital and another two weeks in a rehab hospital, and then my husband brought me home. I had to go up 15 stairs to get into the apartment, which was accomplished by sitting on the steps facing backwards and pulling myself up, one by one. I didn't leave the apartment for a long time. My husband took wonderful care of me, dressing the holes where the fixator went in several times a day. He cooked, he cleaned, he emptied my porta-potty, he did everything for me.

At Christmastime 2000, we went to Eloy, Arizona, for me to make my first jump back into the sky, almost exactly six months later. Now I can hear you saying, "why in the world would you want to jump again?" Skydivers are the only ones who would understand the reason why. I was 58 years old and terrified, but during that six months, I vowed that I would learn what I had done wrong and teach others how to avoid the same mistake. And that's just what I did. With the coaching of my wonderful husband, I learned how to fly my canopy with much greater confidence and skill.
This is a picture of me in Arizona 2003, flying my canopy. I have made almost 2,000 jumps since June 2000, with (as of today) a total of 4,021. I don't jump as much as I used to, and I no longer teach, but I do enjoy going to Snohomish or Pitt Meadows and making a few jumps for fun, sometimes with my husband, and sometimes with other friends who like to play in the sky with me.
The one in the purple is me. (Click to enlarge and see my big grin.) I am jumping here with the best skydivers in the world, Arizona Airspeed, because I had won a raffle jump during the Christmas holiday event. This is how they raise money to travel all over the world and compete. This was one of the most fun skydives I ever made! I also continue to support them by buying raffle jumps when I'm there, hoping that maybe one day I'll win again.

But to tell you the truth, I feel like I won the best prize of all: being able to run and jump and play again. The rehab was long and hard, but it was worth it. I will never be completely whole again, but I'm good enough. I hiked up 3,500 feet over 9 miles last Thursday, and today I'll play in the mountains with my friends, and Sunday I'll play with my skydiving buddies in Snohomish. I'm good.


  1. Hi DJan

    Great story! You know I thought of nice title for your story "I Survived". Sometimes we have to face through a lot of challenges, disappointments to be able to become thoroughly proficient with something that we aim for.

    Nice aerial photos!


  2. Wow! You're amazing! Skydiving is something I have never wanted to do. I think I enjoy water sports the most, and hiking is certainly something I enjoy. But airplanes, not so much. I certainly admire your desire to "get back on the horse:, however.

  3. Amazing! I'm glad you're back to doing what you love.

  4. Incredible photos and story. You are amazing.


  5. Thanks for sharing your pain, so to speak.
    What a comeback, DJan! You have way surpased your old instructor here, and I admire you for going so far in the sport.

    (As to the four-way piece-flying with airspeed, are you smoking them on fall rate or what?!)

  6. WOW DJan! You are such an inspiration!
    I'm so sorry to hear about the accident but happy to see that you jumped again - Bravo and standing ovation! You are my hero!
    You look fantastic soaring up there - a real pro! Continue to spread your wings, my friend! well!

  7. Well, I asked you to write it down, and now I'm sitting here barely able to see the screen through my tears. Did I do this to myself? Am I a masochist? (The answer is yes, because I keep going to movies and reading books, don't I?)

    I seem to recall surgeons' comments about your "physical youth" (resulting no doubt from all the yoga and the thousand other things you do to take care of yourself), but even knowing you as we do, we were still amazed by how quickly you got back on the horse.

    Thanks, Jan, for the wonderful post. You know I love you, and I'm so proud to call myself your brother.

  8. What a story DJan! It must have been so painful and it took a lot of strength to go through all this rehab. I guess you really like sky diving to have gone back to it so quickly. When one goes through some hardship like that, I think it changes one’s outlook on life. I was in a plane one time with a fire in the cargo and it almost exploded, we had to have a sudden emergency landing and did not know if we would make it – 2 hrs from the Afghanistan’s border – and I can tell you that I look at life differently now.

  9. Thank you, thank you so much for your comments! I just got home from the hike (tomorrow's post) and saw the wonderful comments.

    Linda, I am not smoking the fall rate, it was an over-under thing and Craig and Andy are just about ready to fly over the top of Iliana and me. Look at his body position, losing fall rate to hop over our backs.

    I hope that others will realize that intention and desire can take you a long way, no matter what the circumstances, towards wholeness and healing. The doctors don't know everything.

    And VB, yes, the rehab was incredibly painful and long. But what are you gonna do? Lay down and stop living? I really wanted to jump again, if for no other reason to, as Nancy says, "get back on the horse."

    But more than that, I am fortunate that I have the support of my husband and my family and friends. That was critical to recovery. That and belief that I could do it and not listen to the naysayers.

    Blessings back to all of you! I really love you all and feel the expansion of my heart when I read your wonderful comments.

  10. I remember very clearly the day that Dad and Phyllis told me that you had gone to jump again after your accident. I was 20 years old and just out of a bad relationship, headed in a direction that wasn't going to get me anywhere in life. I know now that the person you are when you are 20 is not likely to be the person you are going to grow into, but at the time I felt like my entire world was going to collapse. (We are so darn dramatic at that age!)

    Anyhow, I remember it hitting me hard that my life was not over. Your ability to get back out there and jump again, knowing the risks, became a metaphor for how I wanted to live my life.

    It was one of the foremost reasons I gave myself to make the wild decision to pack up what would fit in my car and move across the country on a spur of the moment. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made as it is how I met Matt.

    You continue to be an inspiration to me in many ways, and I am very glad that you have been part of my life.


  11. Shite! you're the original bionic woman!!! I can't believe you got back in that plane and did it again. My mouth is open and I feel quite sick after reading about that accident. Now I'm a gonna give you a bit of old are you? yes, well, enough said!
    Blessings, Star

  12. Incredible!
    I would never be able to do it...even once!

  13. Wow, you've got some guts girl!
    My hubby is a private pilot and my BIL is a retired Navy Seal with thousands of jumps to his credit. I have heard some pretty bad stories and not all had a happy ending.

    I am glad this turned out well for you and you "got back on the horse". You've got my respect big time.

  14. WOW!!!!! And a loud shout to you.You are brave and I'm glad your up and about.

  15. I am thinking of you taking your sky dive in Florida while visiting Norma Jean after Pete's death...

    I didn't comment or wish you a good jump, because I have to admit, I hold my breath each time you do.

    I have had two flying dreams, so I totally understand why you love to do what you do... I never could.

    After reading this post, and remembering the tragedy with Emily...and now, after reading this, I guess like you said, "only another sky diver can understand" why you continue to sky dive.

    As your dear friend, I want you to be happy and free. I will just continue to say prayers and think positive thoughts to keep you safe.

    This was a remarkable life event.

  16. Your post is both heartbreaking and inspiring. It shows that despite what happened, you choose to be courageous and conquer your fear! I believe that you deserved to be happy again and experience the thrill brought by sky diving. Just follow your heart, but be cautious at the same time. Have fun!

    Amy Baron

  17. Truly inspiring. !!
    I'm without words. You're an inspiration.

  18. I'm glad this story ended well!


  19. How did I ever miss this story? I'm going through all the blogs I follow and cleaning out or keeping. Trying to figure out why THIS one isn't on my blogroll but is in my followed blogs. I'll fix that later. But oh my gosh. If this happened to me I'd be done but, as you say, only a fellow sky-diver would understand. It doesn't surprise me with you, knowing all you do. So grateful you learned what you needed to know to be safe and jump thousands of more times. :)

  20. I read your post with great interest. I had no idea all of this had happened. In some way I lost track of you. Glad you made it and are still active.


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