Getting up after the fall

The original interview


After five days in the ICU, Jamie Dunlavy was transferred to the neurosurgical ward. There she was able to have visitors and communitcate with her supporters from around the world. “The thing that surprised me the most was all the love I got from people who I didn’t even know,” Jamie said. “That was very eye opening for me.”

Julia Verre

Transcribed interview of Jamie Dunlavy, Decatur High student recovering from a two story fall. Also interviewed, Jamie’s mother, Linda Dunlavy

Julia: Can you start by telling me a little bit of information background information about your climbing career?

Jamie: I’ve been competing for 5 years in regional, divisional, national, and international competitions  for speed climbing.

Julia: Will you tell me about what you remember from the fall?

Jamie: I don’t remember much, but apparently what happened was I was climbing and I got to the balcony and I was about to climb over the balcony rail and broke off. I fell holding onto it and onto  my back on the patio.

Julia: What was recovery like for you? what sort of emotions can you remember from along the way?

Jamie: The intensive care unit did not allow visitors much and I still wasn’t told what had happened so I felt pretty scared and confused. But once we got to the ward it was fine but the doctors wouldn’t tell me when I could leave. Right after I fell i didn’t know what happened I think my mom just assumed I had remembered what happened but I was conscious the whole time I just think I erased it out of my memory.

So the first two days I was aggressive and combative and I would fight the attendants cause I went under for the first surgery and I had anesthesia on me the whole time but I still didn’t know what happened.

Julia: Where was the rest of your family when you fell?

Jamie: My mom was on the balcony when I fell.

Julia: How has this/will it impact your climbing career in the future?

Jamie: I plan on going back to climbing but I’m definitely not going to climb anything that isn’t meant to be climbed and I will always use a rope. Climbing is safe really but once you get addicted to climbing you can’t help but climb random things.

Julia: Is there anything else you would like to add about your journey through recovery?

Jamie: I made a full recovery which no one expected, but I still have a lot of fatigue and the half days at school have been very hard. The thing that surprised me the most was all the love I got from people mostly people who I know and also people I barely even know who were very concerned. That was very eye opening for me.

Linda Dunlavy, Jamie’s mother

Julia: Jamie told me you saw her fall, can you tell me the reaction you had as you saw her fall?

Linda: I saw most of the fall but I didn’t see all of it. I thought, oh my goodness, i think you know when something like this happens. I wasn’t feeling anything. It was shock and what can I do to help her at this point. As soon as I saw her fall, I immediately turned from the balcony and ran down the stairs to go outside and figure out how badly she had been hurt. My brain went into overdrive and I really wasn’t feeling anything except for shock about what had happened and what I can do to help her. It was pretty horrible.

Julia: Can you take me through what happened immediately after the fall?

Linda: Well the first 48 hours were pretty brutal because I was essentially alone. She got injured in a pretty small town in New Zealand and we rushed her to the emergency room by ambulance and then I took the helicopter with her to a town that was about 2-2.5 hours away and I was barefoot; no toiletries, no belongings except my cellphone and a credit card and the first 48 hours quite frankly we didn’t know if she was going to make it so there was just a lot of fear and devastation at what I thought might be the loss of my child. After the first 48 hours, there was just this kind of tentative hopefulness that we could turn this thing around and when she woke up four days after the accident her first question to me was ‘mom, am I going to die?’ and so when she asked that question I guess I kind of kicked into lioness mode and I said ‘no we’re going to get through this’ so my emotions were we’re gonna test this out and I don’t care what it takes, we’re going to get you through this. Then when she was finally released from the hospital, we all as a family could breathe better and think about her recovery as opposed to being worried about possible disabilities that would be long term. Once she was released from the hospital, [my emotion] was more, ‘okay she’s going to recover and now we can look forward to a relatively normal life with her,’ so they [emotions], just changed a lot over the course of hours, days, weeks, etc.

Julia: How did the fall change your family dynamic?

Linda: I think it made all of us probably more cautious, more fearful over the following weeks especially when she got out of the hospital. I like to think of myself as someone who can raise a free range kid but certainly after the fall I became a lot more nervous about the little things you know, crossing the street, being in the park,  so unfortunately that was a negative after the accident.

Julia: Is there anything else you would like to add that you think highlights Jamie’s experience/recovery?

Linda: Up until this point in our lives I had kind of prided myself on raising a free range kid but I had no idea how many teenagers suffer from traumatic brain injuries. and you don’t want to go through life being fearful that this is something that’s going to happen to you or your child but at the same time the devastating potential consequences of a traumatic brain injury in retrospect are worth taking a few precautions for…I think it’s just so important to raise awareness about TBI and how it’s the leading cause of injuries in kids under the age of 20 and i had no idea about that before. You don’t have to be fearful but I think you do have to be cautious and not take too many crazy risks because it could end a life or define your life forever. We’ve been extremely fortunate with Jamie she has kind of defied all of the odds and I kind of considered her my miracle child. There are so many people that don’t have the same outcome as Jamie had and I think people just need to be aware of this.

Throughout Jamie’s recovery, Linda Dulavy updated supporters on Jamie’s progress using a CaringBridge* account.

*Note that CaringBridge requires users to make an account to view personal profiles on their website