‘I was screaming in pain’: Woman shatters pelvis but survives rockfall in Utah canyon
Liesl Nielsen, KSL.com
Published at | Updated at
SOUTH WEBER, Utah — As the rocks gave way under Jenna Degraffenreid’s foot, she fell to her side and began to roll down the ravine.
Rocks and boulders dislodged and bounced down around her, snapping the fishing rod she held in her hand and wrapping fly line around her body as she plummeted down the steep embankment.
Suddenly, an excruciating pain shot through her body, and she felt her pelvis and legs snap and condense as a monstrous boulder rolled on top of her; the sound of grinding bones audible above the din.
“I don’t know how else to explain it other than this shrinking, overlapped feeling,” she said.
She finally rolled to a stop in the Weber River below. She couldn’t move her lower half but tried to pull herself further into the river in a desperate attempt to dodge the rocks that were still crashing down.
She could hear her boyfriend, about 20 feet up the ravine, screaming for her. The pair had been fly-fishing in Weber Canyon and were climbing back up the ravine to bypass a particularly tricky area they had spotted during their many fishing trips to the river together.
She was eventually able to call back, and he made his way down to her.
“He was expecting to come down to a dead body in the river,” she said. “There was actually a boulder … larger than myself that he saw rolling down in the rockslide. … That boulder should have, at the speed it was going, it should have just plowed right into me, but it stopped at the edge of the river, for whatever reason, within 2 feet of me.”
When Degraffenreid’s boyfriend reached her, she was still fully conscious. But as he pulled her body to shore and lifted her legs out of the water, “I was screaming in pain,” she said.
“I consider myself to be a pretty tough gal. I grew up riding horses and have been thrown off a few times, and I’ve always been the type to get right back on the horse. But at that point, it was almost like, I don’t know how to explain it, almost animalistic. Like my body just completely took over. It hurt so bad. I was shaking so intensely,” she said.
She would continue shaking until 4 a.m. the next day, she said, even after paramedics came and got her “doped up as best as they could for being at the bottom of a freaking river.”
She was transported to a nearby hospital and eventually transferred to a specialist in Salt Lake where she underwent a five-hour surgery for a fractured kneecap and spine, a broken pelvis, and a shattered tailbone.
It’s been almost three weeks since the accident, and Degraffenreid is recovering at her mother’s house. She won’t be able to get out of bed or a wheelchair for the next eight weeks, and then it’ll be several more weeks on crutches before she can start physical therapy.
Shortly after the accident, her boyfriend proposed to her — something he’d been planning on beforehand, she said.
“He actually (still) asked me to marry him after the injury, so I guess that says a lot about him. He’s so great.”
But for now, their plans are on hold.
The couple met five years ago but have been dating the past eight months — though it’s been a long-distance relationship: him in Alaska and her in Utah, she said. Just a few weeks earlier, however, she decided to move up to Alaska. So, she quit her job and moved out of her Salt Lake apartment and into her family’s house.
The pair were planning on moving her things up to Alaska just four days after the fateful fishing trip.
“The timing could not have been worse,” Degraffenreid said.
That’s especially true because she no longer has health insurance to pay for her surgery or her weeklong stay in the hospital. A GoFundMe has been set up to help with hospital bills and has since raised over $2,000 of its $10,000 goal.
But she’s still grateful it wasn’t worse. Her bones broke in a way that is “uncommon but preferred,” she said, and she won’t be paralyzed for the rest of her life.
“I could have snapped my spine. I could have gotten hit in the face. It could have been so much worse than it was, and I feel really blessed.”
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