If I Can Only Breathe

She was making her way across Laos, when a jury-rigged bus slammed into her. A survivor's tale—and some hard-won advice.

May 1, 2000
Outside Magazine

THE TRANSITION TO health care in America was abrupt. The first thing they wanted to do was cut off the Buddhist protection string that a young lama had given me in Tibet. I had worn it around my neck during all my surgeries and I was adamant about keeping it on. It had gotten me this far, I reasoned.

The ER doctors called me "miracle kid," but it's taken fifteen months of hard work and a few more surgeries to recover. On Halloween, which seemed appropriate, I had another surgery to rearrange my intestines. The surgeons sewed my stomach lining up with plastic mesh to hold everything in place. I'm still picking out bits of glass and gravel that continue to work their way out of my arm, giving me these terrible bouts of blood poisoning. After months of physical therapy, I can now walk. I've gotten my lungs back, too, and except for some nasty scars and lingering pain, I should be able to climb mountains and scuba dive again.

People have told me what an awful way this was to bring in the millennium, and I have to agree. But it was also a rebirth. I've been given my life back, and every day now feels like a meaningful postscript. I found a strength within myself, both physical and spiritual, that I didn't know I had. I'm looking forward to getting back out into the world and doing what I love most. For my birthday this year, I plan to summit Kilimanjaro. At 19,341 feet, you better believe I'll be appreciating each breath.

You can also bet I'll have taken the advice I've been dispensing since even before I left the hospital:

• Always carry your passport—and the phone number for the nearest American embassy—on your person.
• Carry medevac insurance. MEDJET Assistance (800-963-3538; www.medjetassistance.com), for one, promises to fly you to the hospital of your choice anywhere in the world. It costs $175 per year.
• In your medical kit, be sure to include your own suturing needles. Adventure Medical Kits (800-324-3517; www.adventuremedicalkits.com) allows you to assemble your own.
• Finally, if traveling by bus, never ride on the roof, and, if you can, sit toward the rear of the coach.


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