Makenzie Wethington, a North Texas teen, is being called a miracle.
To celebrate her 16th birthday, Makenzie, a Joshua resident, wanted to go skydiving. Late last month, her family took her to a skydiving school in Oklahoma, where she jumped from a plane.
Then things went horribly wrong.
She jumped and her canopy opened, but not completely. There was a malfunction. Makenzie plummeted more than 3,000 feet to the ground.
The fall damaged her liver and broke her pelvis, lumbar spine, shoulder blade and other bones.
Makenzie was flown to OU Medical Center, where she was treated. On Friday, she was transported to Dallas, where she’s staying at the Baylor Institute of Rehabilitation. She’ll be at Baylor for a few weeks.
On Monday, her parents and doctor talked with the media.
“It’s amazing we’re sitting here and having a conversation about a young lady that fell from a tremendous height and is actually still alive,” said Jon Skinner, president of the Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation.
Makenzie is getting out of bed and walking with assistance.
In the next few weeks, she’ll learn to brush her teeth and get dressed. She’ll work with a team of occupational therapists, physical therapists and speech therapists, as well as a neuropsychology specialist.
“She’s already doing very well and from what we’re seeing now we expect and hope for a full recovery,” said Dr. Seema R. Sikka at the Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation.
“She is doing fabulous,” said her mom, Holly Wethington. “She is doing really well. Her spirit is high and she’s ready and eager to do well.”
Her dad, Joe Wethington, said: "It's like she has some type of superpower."
Makenzie remembers jumping out of the plane, and she remembers blacking out. But she doesn’t remember much after that.
“She doesn’t want to talk about it yet,” her mother said. “She might need some time, some therapy, who knows what. Right now, she’s not ready.”
Makenzie was skydiving with her father. At first, Joe Wethington thought another skydiver had fallen to the ground. He raced over to where she had landed. “Please don’t be Makenzie, Please God,” he told himself.
“I don’t wish that on anyone at all, but I sure didn’t want it to happen to my baby,” he said.
How did she survive?
Dr. Jeffrey Bender, a trauma surgeon at OU, treated her. "I don't know the particulars of the accident as I wasn't there. But if she truly fell 3,000 feet, I have no idea how she survived," he said at a press conference.
Sikka said this week: “As a doctor, I think it’s incredible, the injuries she’s had and the way she’s recovered. … It is pretty incredible that she came out of this and she came out of this with injuries that she could recover from."
An “Ellen” fan
Makenzie hasn’t talked with the media about the fall – although she hopes talk show host Ellen DeGeneres will give her a call. She watches “Ellen” every day.
Joe Wethington said he doesn’t believe his daughter received enough skydiving training.
Nancy Koreen, with the Virginia-based U.S. Parachute Association, told the Associated Press that its safety requirements allow someone who is 16 to make a dive with parental consent.
Robert Swainson, the owner and chief instructor at Pegasus Air Sports Center in Chickasha, where Makenzie skydived, defended the company. He noted that the father went up with his daughter and was the first to jump. Swainson told The Oklahoman her chute opened fully but took a left turn after opening and spiraled to the ground.
Holly Wethington said this week that she’s not concerned about what happened the day of the fall.
“It’s the fact that she’s still alive today,” she said. “There’s a reason for it. My daughter is still here and I get to see her every day. As far as the parachute opening or not opening, it’s my last concern. I don’t care if she ever remembers.
Students from Makenzie’s high school in Joshua have made T-shirts to support their classmate. On the front it says “How strong are you?” On the back: “Makenzie Strong.”
Basketball players at her school are wearing the shirt.
The school has also held a pep rally.
— Kendra Lyn NBC5 (@KendraLynNBC5) January 31, 2014
Will she do it again?
Holly Wethington said she asked her daughter: “Aren’t roller coasters enough for you?”
Makenzie responded: “They’re boring.” She’ll do anything that gives her a thrill.
Watch the press conference
Makenzie's parents and doctor attended a news conference Monday and offered an update on her condition:
The Oklahoman has more on Makenzie's accident:
The Associated Press and The Oklahoman contributed to this report.