DALLAS Seconds before she blacked out, Makenzie Wethington realized something was gravely wrong.
Moments before, she and her father were waiting their turn to launch their bodies one at a time from a plane hovering more than 3,500 feet above the Oklahoma soil. It was a dreamshe thought she'd have to waittwo more years tofulfill.
But her excitement got the best of her. Months before the accident, the enterprising 16-year-old scoured the Internet and learned that the state closest to her home in Joshua allowed girls and boys her age to free-fall from airplanes high above the earth. She got to work convincing her parents to sign the waivers. Mom was skeptical; Dad gave in.
By the time that Saturday came, Makenzie was so ready to jump that she didn t bat an eye at the man who was having a panic attack onboard the flight and would soon cede his spot to her.
It didn t affect me at all, she said. I was not scared, I was excited.
Her father, Joe Wethington, jumped first. He then watched in horror ashis daughter crashed to the ground at a speed so fast that it fractured her back, spine and ribs. The impact caused bleeding in her brain and lacerated her liver and a kidney. By the time Joe reached his daughter, she was on her back writhing side-to-side gasping for air, cows ambling nearby.
She had such a scary look in her eyes; she couldn t catch her breath and every time she tried to take a breath she screamed, Joe Wethington said.
She felt like someone was sitting on her, said the teen s mother, Holly Wethington.
Makenzie, with a gray brace jutting out of the neckline of a shirt her friends made in her honor, discussed the Jan. 25 accident for the first time on Thursday. Her father previously spoke of muttering, Please don t be Makenzie, please, please, God, don t be Makenzie as he watched the figure plunge through the air. Wide-eyed doctors told the media they didn t understand how she survived.
Speaking from the Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation, Makenzie illuminated some of the details of her fall and discussed the encouraging progression of her rehabilitation. She s walking now with the help of a walker. Her physician, Seema Sikka, said she s made it 150 feet down the hall. Pending the results of some X-Rays, she could be home within the week less than a month since the accident.
Wethington still struggles with her cognitive abilities. Physically, she understands rehabilitation will take time. But she s burst into tears after being unable to process a math problem.
It feels like third grade math and I have problems with some of it, so that s frustrating, she said. I ve gotten to points where I ve cried doing math because it feels like I just can t do it.
The good news: Doctors are exceedingly hopeful Makenzie will recover from her injuries. Rehabilitation will take time, but Sikka said she s made remarkable progress considering. She s even staying on top of her homework.
Now, her parents say they are turning their attention toward regulations governing skydiving. The federal government has not set a minimum age requirement for the recreation. In 2012, the United States Parachute Association reported 19 fatalities out of roughly 3.1 million jumps. The Virginia-based trade group was closed Thursday because of the winter storm, preventing a spokesperson from commenting for this story.
However, many Texas skydiving companies note that first-timers are required to jump with an expert on their backs. Makenzie jumped alone. She said she realized there was a complication with the parachute mid-jump and began kicking her feet as she was taught in the safety course. It didn t fix anything. Soon she was helpless and screaming. She blacked out before she hit the ground and woke up in a hospital.
I think there needs to be some changes about whether a 16-year-old is prepared enough to jump out of an airplane with a parachute, said Holly Wethington. I do not believe under any instance Makenzie would ve been prepared for something, anything, that happened that day.
For now, Makenzie says she feels blessed to be alive. God gave her a second chance, she said. And it only cemented her desire to become a surgeon.
I want to specialize in trauma so I can relate to the patients more, she said. I think this has just made me have a better look on life.