Two months ago, Kerrigan Davis and her friends went cliff jumping at Niquette Bay State Park in Colchester, Vermont for a day of fun and excitement.
But no one could have predicted the outcome.
Kerrigan and three of her friends, who requested to be unnamed, were jumping off 10- to 15-foot cliffs until one went up to the biggest cliff there. In awe, Kerrigan and her friends all watched to see if they would jump.
After a few minutes of looking down at the water, the friend backed away, climbed down toward their friends, head and shoulders hanging low showing defeat.
Davis, on the other hand, showed no defeat. She waltzed right up to the top of the cliff telling herself, “Okay, it looks really scary, is this something I can do? It’s only 50 feet, I can do this.”
Later she would find out that the cliff was actually 70 feet above the water.
She looked down at the peaceful water and after staring for a while – she jumped.
The moment she hit the water; she knew something was wrong.
“I jumped and I hit the water and it was the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced,” she said, her eyes looking at the floor with a glazed look. “My feet just started to burn, and I felt a sensation in my legs where it was almost like they were asleep, but they weren’t. I could just barely move them.”
“I then started screaming because I knew something wasn’t right,” she said.
Davis had completely compressed one of her vertebrae down to almost nothing and many bone shards were inches away from severing her spinal cord.
In simpler terms, she had broken her back.
“The worst part is obviously not knowing that first day what the deal is. Is she going to walk again or is she not going to walk. It was pretty scary,” Ken Davis, Kerrigan’s father said.
She was rushed to the hospital and two days later was put under for surgery. The night before her surgery, a group of about 10 close friends came up to see her with gifts and blankets to get her mind off the situation. Among those friends was Emma Carlson.
“We were there for three or four hours. Reilly Knipes actually made food for her family. It didn’t feel real until we were actually there and saw her smiling and laughing,” she said, remembering the night with a smile.
The surgery lasted about five-and-a-half hours.
“We knew she was going in at a certain time and they just came in and took her. And I fell apart. I fell to my knees. I absolutely fell apart,” Lynnette Davis, Kerrigan’s mother said with tears in her eyes. “One of the nurses picked me up off the ground because I was crying so hard.”
Unfortunately, the recovery period after the surgery did not get off to a strong start.
“I wasn’t eating,” Davis said. “I didn’t eat for almost two weeks after surgery.”
Her body lost all of its weight and body mass. Her parents were under the impression that she should be up and walking again. To see her body deteriorating made them extremely worried that she wasn’t recovering properly.
It wasn’t until a nutritionist, psychologist and other doctors assessed her and assured her parents that after such a traumatic incident, this was normal and that her body was recovering at a healthy rate.
“Flash forward to when she went to rehab and I saw her walk for the first time, I knew things were going to be good for the first time,” Lynnette said with a grin.
“Trying to relearn how to walk sucked,” Davis said with a laugh. “Because you know what you want your feet to do but they just don’t do it.”
After the initial two weeks, Davis was starting to walk again and her overall status was starting to improve, largely due to overwhelming supporting letters she was receiving and a Facebook fundraiser.
The day after the accident, Castleton University friend Caton Deuso started a Facebook fundraiser for Kerrigan.
“The most help they’re going to need is financial,” Deuso said explaining her actions.
“I wasn’t really thinking about it,” Lynnette said. “So the next morning after it happened, I woke up and it was past $2,500. It was just unbelievable because these are people that we know but also there are people sharing with other people that we don’t know. I was just watching the generosity of Vermont, the whole United States really coming together.”
Originally, the starting goal was to hit $5,000. It seemed like an achievable goal. Little did Deuso, Davis, or anyone realize that within the first 24 hours, the goal was accomplished.
From there, it just kept rising. The goal kept getting higher and higher. The fundraiser went from $5,000 to $7,500, then to $10,000. From $10,000 it was increased to $15,000 then to $18,000 and now, where it has been for the past few weeks, $20,000. The current balance is $19,463.
“I thought we were going to hit a thousand and that was going to be it and that was going to be enough. I never thought we would be borderline $20,000 right now,” Deuso said with a giant smile on her face.
“It was a shock. We were just concerned with her. Just the outpour of people that were donating, sending cards, it was truly amazing,” Ken Davis said, motioning to their front door that is flooded with all the cards from family, friends, and others.
He later said that they plan to use the money for medical bills, acknowledging that this will probably be a staggering debt to pay.
“One of the craziest things to me is how fast she is recovering,” Carlson said. “It was only about two months ago that she was getting surgery and now she is planning on coming back to school.”
Original thoughts were that Davis would miss out on this semester to recover, and then come back next semester. But now the plan is for her to move back to campus on Sept. 15.
“I basically said you can be miserable here at home with television and nothing or you can go to school and be with your friends and be in the community you know so well and be miserable,” Lynnette said.
Davis’ mother and father just stressed that they would like to let it be known to everyone who their daughter is and that they hope no one will “run up and give her a big hug or slap her on the back.”
Davis said she is open to anyone asking her questions about her experience and would love to give them her honest answer so that people know. She is looking forward to coming back and would love all the help she can get because as she puts it, “I just want to go back home.”Photo coutesy of Kerrigan Davis With the help of two nurses, Davis attempts to walk again. Photo courtesy of Kerrigan Davis Davis receiving endless cards and well wishes at her hospital room.