Yosemite worker's amazing story of survival

October 29, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
A North Valley woman is getting back on her feet just weeks after shattering portions of her spine.

Jessica Garcia, 23, spent four days and three nights in the Yosemite wilderness after she took a 35 foot fall.

Each step Jessica Garcia takes is painful, each, a reminder of her days spent in the wilderness. Her doctors say she's lucky.

Jessica: "The last thing in the world I want to be is paralyzed."

She says she's a fighter.

Jessica: "I've never quit at anything, ever!"

That upbeat attitude was put to a test, unlike any Jessica has ever faced. The 23 year old is an avid hiker. She spent the summer working in Yosemite National Park. She walked trails and climbed rocks.

Three weeks ago, she was about to begin a new job at the Wawona Hotel. The afternoon before orientation, she decided to explore her new surroundings. That decision nearly killed her.

Jessica: "It was not meant to be a hike what so ever."

About two miles into the walk, Jessica says she lost her footing. She slid down into the mud, and over a ledge.

Jessica: "It was a... almost a straight drop down."

Despite shattered vertebrae, and a pinched spinal cord, Jessica snapped these photos of where she fell.

Jessica tells Action News she knew -- the earliest anyone would even begin looking for her, would be the next day. And with little use of her legs, she fought through the pain, and crawled to find shelter.

Jessica: "My right leg, it was numb and it weighed so much and I basically had to drag it."

Jessica spent the next four days in excruciating pain. She had little water and no food. And all she could think about was her family.

Jessica: "The last thing I wanted to do was die in Yosemite. I had been away from my family for almost the whole summer."

Four days later, just a day before Jessica says she likely would have given up hope, a search and rescue worker found Jessica's park ID.

Jessica: "I heard a lady call my name, and I jumped up and start crying because I knew I was saved and everything was going to be okay."

Jessica was put on a stretcher and carried out of the Merced River. Her rescuers said her now shredded park uniform, likely kept her alive.

The medical team flew Jessica to Community Regional Medical Center in Downtown Fresno. This is the only level one trauma center in the Valley. Doctors spent more than eight hours trying to repair her spine.

Dr. Daniel Miller: "There was a high likelihood that she would be paralyzed by us, with the surgery."

Dr. Daniel Miller is a Neuro Surgion at CRMC, he and a team of doctors used a new technique that involves a titanium cage, and fragments of Jessica's own bone to repair her spinal cord injury.

Dr. Daniel Miller: "She's actually doing very well, she's walking with a walker, but her strength has increased."

Jessica is also receiving support from friends, family and hikers across the country. And with every step, Jessica is proof she's a fighter. Dr. Miller says she should be walking on her own in the next 3-6 months.

Jessica: "When I do get better I plan on going back and saying thank you, in person."

Because Jessica only worked in Yosemite for a few months, she does not have health insurance. To help her cover medical bills, her family set up an account with Bank of the West.

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