Amber Kohnhorst loves animals and adventure. The trip she'd planned to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah promised both. She'd spend time volunteering at the shelter and do some hiking in nearby Cane Beds, Arizona. But what sounded like a perfect vacation quickly became a nightmare when the 25-year-old Mayo Clinic nurse fell 100 feet down a cliff during what was supposed to be a short hike. "I'm lucky I'm alive," Amber told KAAL-TV. (After hearing her story, we can't help but agree.)
Amber doesn't remember the fall — just waking up bruised, bloody and broken on a 10-by-10-foot ledge. She had no food, no water, and no cell reception. Her nose and back were broken, and her pelvis was crushed. She thought she would die there. Amber tells us she cried, prayed and blew a rescue whistle with the hope that someone would hear. No one did. Her thoughts turned to what might lay ahead. "If I died, I would have died happy," she says. "But I kept thinking about my family. My parents would be devastated. They told me not to climb alone."
After a cold night, Amber greeted the morning with a new sense of determination. But she still didn't have cell reception. Instead she used her phone to take photos and type goodbye notes to her family. Then, according to WCCO-TV, "Through the excruciating pain of a broken back and a concussion, she somehow got the strength to climb back halfway up the canyon." Amber rested on a ledge, cold, shaking and blowing her whistle. This time, someone heard.
The owners of the Airbnb where Amber was staying had "noticed she hadn't come back and called authorities," reports KAAL-TV. And, "Nearly 28 hours after her fall, she was rescued by a helicopter rescue crew." Amber was taken to Dixie Regional Medical Center in Utah, where she had surgery and spent two weeks recovering. Then she flew home to Minnesota and became a patient at Mayo Clinic Hospital, Saint Marys Campus — the very place she normally cares for others as a cardiac ICU nurse.
Amber says becoming a patient has given her a new perspective on her job. "I'm a nurse because I love to take care of people, and I've always been very protective of my patients," Amber tells us. "But now I have a whole new level of sympathy and understanding for what my patients are going through."
The experience has also given her a new perspective on Mayo Clinic. "Everyone at Mayo has been wonderful," Amber says. "It makes me realize how lucky I am to work here." Her colleagues have rallied around her with support, including setting up a GoFundMe campaign to help offset her expenses.
"We know how difficult it is to be focused on healing when you're also worried about how you are going to afford to get well," says Alexandra Truzzi, Amber's friend and colleague who set up the campaign. "It's no burden anyone should face."
Currently, Amber's movement is limited, and she needs 24-hour care. But she's "on the road to a miraculous recovery," reports WAOW-WSAU, and plans to return to her job at Mayo Clinic as soon as she's able. "I honestly don't know how I'm doing so well," she tells the station, though she does have one guess. "The only place my back was broken was below the backpack I was wearing when I fell. I think landing on the backpack saved me," she tells us, adding that she plans to send the company (North Face) a note of thanks. "It's a miracle I'm not dead or paralyzed. Thank God I have another chance."
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