Amy Regan has been taking life one daring step at a time.
Mark Baxter and Amy Regan are back home in Brookings as she regains her mobility after a hiking mishap in Del Norte County. WesCom News Service / Jane Stebbins
“So much has happened since Oct. 19,” she said of the day she fell off an embankment near the Damnation Creek Trail north of Klamath and was brought out by the Del Norte Search and Rescue Team hours later. “But I don’t remember much.”
Everything went wrong that day, she and her boyfriend, Mark Baxter, admit: They left for the hike late in the day. She opted not to wear her knee brace.
The 51-year-old Brookings woman, Baxter, and their two dogs, headed out anyway and, toward sunset, she fell about 30 feet down a ravine, breaking her back, at least six ribs, puncturing a lung and sustaining a head injury.
The last thing she remembers was hiking the trail and thinking about the night ahead — the drive home, a “bribe” to Baxter that if she could have the last soda in the car, she’d treat him to dinner at Jack in the Box, that the dogs needed to be fed, that when she’d hear water she’d know they were near the footbridge that was relatively close to the parking lot.
And then, there is little left.
“I heard water; that meant the footbridge was about 100 yards ahead,” she said. “That’s the last thing I remember.
“I didn’t have a stumble, slip, slide, crash sensation,” she said. “I was thinking, ‘I hear water; I feel good.’”
“I’m falling, I’m still falling, I’m still falling,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘If I think ‘I’m falling’ one more time, it’s going to be a long fall — and a hard landing.’”
Baxter and the German shepherd, Luke, scrambled down the hill after her. Regan was in pain, and couldn’t figure out why she could move her head and hands, but couldn’t shift her body to a position more comfortable on the rocks. She could feel her thigh when she touched it, but couldn’t move her leg. She tried to sit up; to no avail.
“The next thing I remember was he’s touching me,” she said of Baxter. “I knew I was mangled, the way I was lying — one leg was lying over the other; it just wasn’t the right alignment. From my neck to my ankles was this throbbing, electrifying pain.”
Regan has separation anxiety issues, and Baxter didn’t want to leave her alone, in the dark, on a cliffside.
“We don’t leave each other; we don’t throw each other away,” Baxter said. “We don’t give up on each other. To leave her would have constituted the most incredible betrayal.”
“I thought, ‘What are you doing wasting time here — go!’” Regan said, smiling at Baxter. “Get help! I had 100 percent confidence I’d be rescued. I trusted Mark would handle everything — his dog, my dog, getting to the trailhead, getting rescue workers.”
So Baxter and his dog, Ezra, headed down the trail, in the dark — and further challenged by the ordeal because Baxter is blind and profoundly deaf.
He got to a place on the trail where he found cell service and called for help.
Suddenly in Portland
Regan only remembers bits and pieces from her placement on a backboard to her arrival at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland.
She remembers rescue workers talking about ropes, hoisting methods, plans. She doesn’t remember if she was transported to Portland via plane or helicopter (plane, Baxter said). She doesn’t remember how long she was in surgery, during which a rod was installed in her back and two vertebrae were fused above and below the crushed bone.
Next on the agenda was the hell of physical therapy.
“They encourage you to be independent,” Regan said of the floor at the Rehabilitation Institute of Oregon at Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital. “They didn’t make me do anything — ever.”
They told her she had to participate in 3.5 hours of strenuous activity every day.
“I hadn’t even been able to move yet!” Regan said. “But things just started happening.”
The first encouragement came when she found a way to scratch her knee.
“I couldn’t do that two days ago,” she said, remembering. “That was the beginning of my realization: I might actually get mobility back. I might actually walk again.”
Picking up the pieces
Later, the therapists told her it was time to learn to stand.
“I asked how long I had to stand, and they said five minutes,” she said. “We got started talking, and next thing I knew, it was 15 minutes later. So, this is what it feels like to stand.”
A few days later, the therapist announced, it was time to learn to walk.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Regan said with a laugh. “I was hanging onto the parallel bars for dear life. I was grateful there was a wheelchair right behind me. But I took five steps.”
A few days later, she wobbled 60 feet with her walker. And then she did a lap around the rehabilitation hospital’s floor.
She balked at the wheeled walker, so they left it in the room — where she could see it. At first, it threatened her; later it served as a challenge, a temptation.
“This walker and I get along real well, now,” she said. “Luke (her service dog) is a little confused about his job now, but … he’ll figure it out.”
Baxter now helps Regan with her physical therapy, at least two hours each day. She is visited by a therapist twice a week. And she’s again enjoying her time at home, with her family.
“Even after my accident, I had no fear, no regrets, no resentment, no self pity, no hostility, no sadness, or anything negative whatsoever,” Regan said. “It was just a freak accident, and I survived, just as I knew somehow that I would.”
The couple can’t wait to get back to the woods, to collect rocks along the beach and fly kites.
“I am recovering, defying the odds, and my mood has been consistently good, despite the setbacks,” Regan said. “I will drive again. I will walk again, without a walker. Mark and I will hike again. I will overcome the statistical average and, although there may be some limitations, I will at least be functional and able to enjoy life and move forward, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.”
It’s all about picking up the pieces, Regan said, and taking one daring step at a time.