Yosemite National Park employee helps others after her near-death experience

A Yosemite National Park employee that nearly died after getting injured and trapped in the wilderness is back to work in the park.
November 4, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
A Yosemite National Park employee that nearly died after getting injured and trapped in the wilderness is back to work in the park. Jessica Garcia spends at least one day a week hiking trails around Yosemite National Park.

Part of the time Jessica volunteers to stop and talk with park visitors about safety. Jessica is one of the newest members in the Park's Preventative Search and Rescue team, known as PSAR.

"There are some close points where you know, it could be just a sheer drop if you get too close," Garcia said. "It's not worth, you know, going down into a ravine. You'll end up being stuck there.

It is incredible Garcia is even able to walk or hike, let alone volunteer in Yosemite National Park. Garcia nearly died in the park last year. She was rescued after spending four painful days and three cold nights lost and injured in the Yosemite wilderness.

Two miles into an off-trail walk Garcia slipped on a wet rock and went over a 35 foot ledge. The fall shattered portions of her spine and fractured her pelvis and femur.

Garcia's accident happened just one day before her orientation at the Wawona Hotel for her new job.

The search for her didn't begin until the next day when she missed orientation. Garcia was trapped along the Merced River and was surrounded by boulders the size of cars. She crawled to find shelter and survived with no food and little water.

Garcia remembers nearly everything about being saved, including the rescue flight out of the ravine.

"When I first got to her she was in quite a bit of pain and unable to talk to me. When we were able to medicate her and relieve the pain, she became a lot more relaxed and I was able to explain to her what was happening," Park Ranger Lisa Hendy said.

Hendy is not only a park ranger but she is also a paramedic in Yosemite. She rode with Jessica during her rescue.

"I thought she did an amazing job of taking care of herself out there and of mentally staying with us," Hendy said.

Hendy introduced Jessica to the PSAR program.

"I thought it was a fantastic idea, that they were doing that. She asked me if I would volunteer," Garcia said

"For someone whose actually experienced the suffering that goes with making a mistake and then having the toughness and strength to fight through that mistake and survive it, and then to tell people here's what you can do to avoid that, that's incredibly important," Hendy said "The testimony is way more valuable that I will say to the average visitor."

When Garcia is not doing PSAR work she is out hiking on the trails, going between 5 to 15 miles at a time. Doctors thought Garcia would take months to recover from repeat surgeries to rebuild the bones in her spine. But she was walking on her own after just a month.

"I tend to stiffen up, but usually what I do is find a flat surface, lay down and stretch out. And then I just get back up and start again," Garcia said.

Not only is Jessica volunteering her time here in Yosemite National Park, she is also an employee working at Yosemite Lodge.

Jessica works behind the tourism desk inside the lodge. She says there is no where she'd rather be than helping tourists take in the Yosemite sights she's fallen in love with.

"This is a real special situation for us and we're really thankful to have her," Hendy said.


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