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.