An 18-year-old girl was left paralyzed, comatose and needing a breathing tube after hitting her head against a cliff and falling 25 feet in a pre-prom abseiling event.
Avery Tanner, from Utah, started the day on April 20 by abseiling with her friends, before they were due to have a lunch, an evening dance, and celebratory dinner for finishing school.
But while abseiling, Avery pinched her hand in the carabiner clips and let go of the rope suspending her, sending her crashing into rock, and free-falling to the ground.
One of the boys in her group who had already abseiled to the bottom caught Avery in his arms – in a move that likely saved her life.
But severe damage had already been done by hitting her head.
Avery Tanner, 18, was excited about her prom when she had an abseiling accident that almost killed her
While abseiling, Avery pinched her hand in the carabiner clips and let go of the rope suspending her, sending her crashing into rock, and free-falling to the ground. Pictured: Avery surrounded by machines to keep her alive
Avery and her dad at another dance before her prom celebrations
Surgeons didn’t expect Avery to make a recovery. She had a 90 percent chance of being in a permanent vegetative state
Avery coded and died momentarily in the helicopter, before being resuscitated.
Once at the hospital, doctors stabilized Avery and carried out CT scans of her head and spine before placing a monitor in her skull to measure intercranial pressure.
An MRI revealed that she had suffered a diffuse axonal injury, meaning the wires to the brain were torn from their connections.
Her doctors said 90 percent of patients who suffer this kind of injury never wake up from their coma.
The other 10 percent are left in a permanent vegetative state.
Her father Jesse, 39, recalls the first time he and her mom Caysie, 38, saw Avery after arriving at the hospital as the most painful sight.
She looked as if she was dead.
‘As a physician myself, I’ve seen this before, but nothing prepares you for seeing your daughter in this position. She looked dead. I’ve seen dead people, but nothing was more awful than this,’ Jesse said.
‘Caysie and I were placed in a small waiting room for what felt like an eternity until they came and told us they were placing a monitor in her skull.
‘Avery was taken up to the trauma ICU as the neurosurgeon drilled a small hole in her skull and dropped in a fiber-optic sensor to monitor the intracranial pressure in her skull.
‘We were eventually allowed to go and spend time with Avery who was connected to life support with, what felt like, a million machines surrounding her.’
Even though Avery (pictured before her accident) was nervous about abseiling, she told a younger girl in her group, who was terrified, that she would go first to show her that there was nothing to worry about
Avery with her friend, Matthias, stunned doctors by regaining the use of her arms and legs
On day 12 Avery came out of her coma. She would be in hospital for another 56 days
The next four days, he says, ‘were the longest of our lives.’
‘This was the period when Avery’s brain would reach critical swelling, determining whether she would need surgery to remove part of her skull.
‘After four days without the pressure getting too high, they decided to take the monitor out and do an MRI to assess the damage. We were elated.’
In total, Avery spent 23 days on life support.
But in that time, her parents were tirelessly mobilizing her body to keep her as healthy as possible, praying she would wake up.
Five days after her fall, Avery had a tracheotomy fitted, a feeding tube and a subclavian line which circulated cooled fluid into her system to lower her body temperature, tackling her fevers.
Jesse did physical therapy exercises with Avery five times a day, stretching out her limbs and joints to prevent them from tightening up.
Every time he got to her hands, he would tell her to squeeze his hand and then pause, but nothing happened.
On the tenth day however, Jesse felt a squeeze – but doctors assured him it was only reflexive and not intentional.
Two days later, a physical therapist told Avery to squeeze her hand and Avery did so, then when instructed, she let go and wiggled her fingers, so on day 12 Avery came out of her coma.
Although she had a slim chance of surviving, Avery has defied the odds which were stacked up against her.
Avery wearing a plaster over her neck after having a tracheotomy fitted to help her breathe
Friends visit Avery as she recovers from a brain injury
She required surgery on her right eye, which doctors said she wouldn’t be able to see out of yet her vision has returned, and despite her spinal column being packed with blood, which doctors said would prevent her from walking, she now walks 5,000 steps a day.
More struggles came as she battled a collapsed lung, three rounds of pneumonia, a blood-filled right eye that wouldn’t let her see, no hearing in her right ear.
Her legs hadn’t been moving so they did MRIs of her spine, which showed that her spinal column was completely packed with blood and it was impinging on her spinal cord, meaning that she would probably never walk again.
But within a month of physical therapy she learned to walk on her own again.
Her right ear is still damaged, and will be permanently.
But Avery’s positive.
‘All in all, she spent 68 days in hospital for an injury that was supposed to end her life,’ Jesse said.
‘Avery’s now back home and doing outpatient therapy. She still has a long road ahead of her, but it’s a road we once thought was a dead end.
‘Avery’s community rallied around her because of who she is. There are those people who have this innate light within them, Avery has that, but her true talent is that she’s able to bring that light out in other people.’