Nurse Who Survived 100-Foot Fall Returns to Work With a New Perspective

Amber Kohnhorst was hiking alone when she fell off a 100-foot cliff in Cane Beds, Arizona. She summoned the will to climb out with a broken back and crushed pelvis and was eventually rescued. Now, she’s begun another uphill climb: returning to the job she loves.

In May, Amber Kohnhorst fell 100 feet off a cliff while hiking in Arizona. She was convinced, for a time, that she would die alone on the ledge where she'd landed. But as we reported shortly after her accident, Amber — a remarkably positive and determined person — crawled halfway back up the canyon and was eventually rescued.

That uphill climb continued, as Amber worked to recover from injuries that included a broken nose, back and pelvis. After 10 weeks of bedrest, the avid outdoorswoman was able to begin physical therapy. Amber tells us her recovery has been agonizingly slow. "At first, I couldn't even put on my own shoes," she says. But she's pressed on, focused on returning to activities and work that she loves. And as KIMT and WCCO report, Amber recently achieved a major milestone when she walked through the doors of Mayo Clinic as a nurse instead of a patient for the first time since her accident. "It's really nice to be back at work," she tells us. "Everyone has been really welcoming."

Because she's still restricted from lifting more than 20 pounds, Amber is not yet caring for patients. But her goal is to get back to the bedside, where she hopes to put her new perspective to work. "It's hard to be a patient," she tells us. "There are emotional and mental aspects to healing that I didn't fully understand before." Amber says addressing those aspects are among her "new goals and aspirations" for her nursing career. "There are so many situations I think about now that I wish I could push rewind and go back and do over," she says. "I would say things differently to patients now, based on what I've been through myself."

Amber says one thing that's helped in her own recovery is something she's also encouraged her patients to do: Find a way to do things that make you feel like yourself. For Amber, traveling and hiking top the list. And in October, she combined both when she flew to Ireland for a trip that was planned (and paid for) before her accident. "At first, after my accident, I couldn't even think that far ahead," she says. But as the weeks and months progressed, the trip became a goal she worked toward. Two weeks before Amber's scheduled departure date, her doctor cleared her to travel. "He told me not to jump around, and to stay away from cliffs," Amber tells us. She complied, and says the trip "got me back to feeling like my normal self."

In some ways, though, Amber is a long way from being who she was six months ago. She lives with pain, a daily reminder of the trauma her body endured. "People see me, and I look like I'm back to normal, but there's a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff still going on," she says. But she tries not to focus on the difficulties. "There are so many things that can bring you down, but I try to keep looking at the light."

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