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Video: Woman falls from mountain, lives to tell

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    MATT LAUER, co-host: We're back now at 8:10 with a story of survival. A 19 -year-old student from the University of Colorado went for a jog near campus earlier this month and accidentally plunged 40 feet off a cliff. We're going to talk to her in a moment, but first Natalie 's back with more of her story. Natalie :

    NATALIE MORALES, anchor: And, Matt , somewhere along the path Brenna Fisch slipped, and it wasn't until the next morning that she was found and rushed to the hospital. Brenna Fisch loves the outdoors. She calls it her escape. So early last month when she set out for a jog, there was no reason for concern.

    Ms. BRENNA FISCH (Survived After Falling from a Mountain): I was just kind of having that sort of a day where one thing was leading to another, but in a positive way.

    MORALES: With her regular trail closed, Brenna found another option up the road. Along this path, she slipped and fell 40 feet to the base.

    Ms. FISCH: My last memory was I was on a rock and just kind of soaking in the sun and I was really happy.

    MORALES: Injured, but hoping to find help, she dragged herself almost 100 feet.

    Ms. FISCH: I'm not sure how I actually got to this point, but my shoes were wet, so they think I might have gone through a stream that's up there.

    MORALES: Early the next morning, Eric Simley and Fiona Dunne , out for a hike, found Brenna .

    Mr. ERIC SIMLEY: We saw a pair of legs sticking out from behind this rock right here when we were down there.

    MORALES: The two called 911 and an ambulance rushed Brenna to the hospital. Dr. ALEXANDER M. MASON (Neurosurgeon, Boulder Neurosurgical and Spine Associates): And you can see very clearly here that something -- and probably a rock in this case -- had protruded into the skull itself. And once dirt and soil and contaminants contact the brain or the -- or the covering outside the brain, it's a big deal.

    MORALES: Surgeons reconstructed her forehead and part of her left eye socket. With the procedure complete, Brenna began her road to recovery.

    Offscreen Voice: You're doing so well, Brenna .

    Ms. FISCH: Dad!

    MORALES: Doctors say she's already made remarkable progress and believe she'll achieve a full recovery.

    Ms. FISCH: To be honest, I still feel just peaceful out here. I'm going to keep going outdoors as long as I can.

    MORALES: In the hospital when Brenna first realized what had happened, she apologized to her family for making everyone worry. Matt :

    LAUER: All right, Natalie , thanks very much. Brenna Fisch is here with us now, along with her mom, Diana . Good morning to both of you.

    Ms. FISCH: Good morning.

    DIANA: Good morning.

    LAUER: How are you feeling?

    Ms. FISCH: I'm feeling really good now.

    LAUER: You look amazing. You look none the worse for wear and tear.

    Ms. FISCH: Yeah. I mean, makeup did a lot. They covered up my whole scar and they're like, 'Let's cover up this incision here.'

    LAUER: Well, I -- but this is -- first of all, I think it's amazing. Isn't it always incredible that God never lets you remember the actual fall?

    Ms. FISCH: Yeah.

    LAUER: Because I think that would be too painful, probably?

    Ms. FISCH: I really want to remember. I mean, I think...

    LAUER: Why?

    Ms. FISCH: The doctors were saying that it'll come back to me in dreams when I'm ready to handle it. But I just kind of want to know what the heck I was doing that kind of got me into trouble. But...

    LAUER: You...

    Ms. FISCH: Yeah.

    LAUER: You really did take a fall. I mean, they had too rebuild your eye socket.

    Ms. FISCH: Yeah, this was all restructured and, like, I don't...

    LAUER: That X-ray of your skull...

    DIANA: Well, there's a scar. Yeah.

    Ms. FISCH: Yeah.

    LAUER: ...was extraordinary, the damage that was actually done by a rock or something.

    Ms. FISCH: I know. Yeah. And, I mean, I'm still -- I still have, like, a brain injury , so I'm still recovering from that, but...

    LAUER: And, Mom, you're in Switzerland when you get the call.

    DIANA: Yeah.

    LAUER: I mean, how does a mom handle that? You're so far away and they say...

    DIANA: Yeah. Yeah.

    LAUER: And I think you ended up on the phone talking to a brain surgeon ...

    DIANA: Right.

    LAUER: ...as they're taking her into surgery.

    DIANA: Right. And I had no idea I was going to talk to somebody. I mean, I was actually thinking I would be talking to somebody about a broken leg. And they tell me, 'Oh, just a minute,' and then they patch me through to a brain surgeon and, 'Can I have permission to open her head from this side to that side?' They're going to do a cranioplasty. I was terrified. And, you know, you're a parent. You can understand what it feels like to have your child...

    LAUER: Sure.

    DIANA: ...that far away and just to feel out of control.

    Ms. FISCH: You didn't even know what was -- what happened.

    DIANA: I didn't know what happened.

    LAUER: When you finally got to her side...

    DIANA: Oh, it was a relief. It was such a relief just to be with her. Also, she recognized me. She knew who I was. And she was like, 'Mommy, what are you here for?'

    LAUER: You had a chance recently, I think, to meet Eric and Fiona .

    Ms. FISCH: Yeah.

    LAUER: They're the hikers who actually found you and helped save you.

    Ms. FISCH: Yeah.

    LAUER: What was that meeting like?

    Ms. FISCH: I really wanted to meet them. It was -- I didn't know I would get a chance to, but it was something I really wanted to do because, for one, I wanted to thank them, but I also wanted to know more about, like, what sort of state I was in when they found me. And they said I was, like, talking to them and even making jokes and that I just said...

    LAUER: That's extraordinary you were even conscious.

    Ms. FISCH: Yeah. I know. And they asked -- I was wondering if I had been calling out or something, and they said one thing I said was no one -- no one could hear me, so.

    LAUER: Well, it -- despite the injury, in the midst of recovery I like the fact that when you were being videotaped walking in that rehab session and your dad said, 'You're doing great, Brenna ,' you, 'Dad! Don't bother me now.' Well, you going to get...

    Ms. FISCH: Yeah, and every single day he'd take a picture of me , and I did not...

    LAUER: You know, one day you'll look back at those pictures and be happy you have them, to see how far you've come.

    Ms. FISCH: I am. I am so happy. I mean, and he was even videotaping some of my early hospital and -- yeah.

    LAUER: Well, we can wish you a continued speedy recovery.

    Ms. FISCH: OK. Thank you very much .

    LAUER: Brenna , thank you for joining us. We appreciate it.

    Ms. FISCH: OK.

    LAUER: Diana , it's nice to meet you.

TODAY contributor
updated 10/25/2010 10:24:08 AM ET 2010-10-25T14:24:08

It may be a blessing that Brenna Fisch has no memory of the horrific mountain fall that shattered her skull and nearly claimed her life, but the plucky 19-year-old is bound and determined to remember.

Fisch, a sophomore at the University of Colorado, went jogging on a steep, tricky trail at Boulder Canyon near campus, where she plunged 40 feet (about a two-story fall) and smashed her head. Luck was on her side when hikers discovered her some eight to 10 hours after the accident.

Appearing with her mother Diana on TODAY Monday, Brenna told Matt Lauer the last thing she remembers is sunning herself on a rock during a break from her run. But she’s hoping the events of that fateful day will eventually crystallize in her still-recovering brain.

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“I really want to remember,” she told Lauer. “The doctors were saying that it will come back to me in dreams when I’m ready to handle it. But I just kind of want to know what the heck I was doing that kind of got me into trouble.”

Unexpected detour
The Fisch family has lived in Switzerland for the past five years, but Brenna opted to return to the U.S. to study at the University of Colorado. It’s the state where she was raised, and her affinity for the state’s legendary mountains drew her back. But it was those same, sometimes treacherous mountains that nearly caused her death.

Brenna Fisch credited the TODAY makeup crew with helping cover the scars of her injuries from plunging 40 feet from the side of a mountain last month.

Fisch headed out for an early evening run around 6 p.m. on Sept. 9, but found her usual jogging trail closed off. She proceeded down the road and found another trail, one much steeper than her regular route, and even though she realized she was in for more of a hike than a jog, took it on.

At some point in her run, Fisch tumbled 40 feet to the mountain’s base. Details are sketchy, but investigators discovered that the determined young woman managed to drag herself nearly 100 feet nearer to a path where she might be found — despite having a severely cracked skull and a shattered eye socket. She lay on the ground with grave injuries, including a hole in her head, through a chilly Colorado night when temperatures dipped into the low 40s.

She was found early the next morning by hikers Eric Simley and Fiona Dunne, who immediately called 911. The pair originally believed Fisch had been assaulted, since she didn’t seem to be dressed for a mountain hike.

Video: Woman falls from mountain, lives to tell (on this page)

Meanwhile, Diana Fisch in Switzerland received a startling phone call from her sister back in the U.S., informing her of Brenna’s accident. She broke the news to her husband David and Brenna’s little sister Aubrey, and phoned the hospital.

“I actually thought I would be talking to somebody about a broken leg, and they tell me, ‘Oh, wait a minute,’ and they patched me through to a brain surgeon,” Diana Fisch told Lauer. “[They asked,] ‘Can I have permission to open up her head from this side to that side? [We’re] going to do a cranioplasty.’

“I was terrified. You can understand what it’s like to have your child that far away, and just to feel out of control.”

‘Such a relief’
Brenna’s neurosurgeon, Alexander M. Mason, had his hands full during the three-hour surgery. Looking at Brenna’s CAT scan, he told NBC News, “You can see very clearly that something, probably a rock in this case, had protruded into the skull itself. And once dirt and soil and contaminants contact the brain or the covering outside the brain, it’s a big deal.” Brenna also had to have her eye socket reconstructed and her ear reattached.

Brenna Fisch’s CAT scan revealed a protrusion into her skull, probably from a rock. She lay in the open with the injury for eight to 10 hours.

Brenna was long out of surgery by the time her family reached her bedside. But to Diana’s blessed relief, her daughter was alert and talking when she arrived.

“Oh, it was a relief, it was such a relief,” Diana Fisch told Lauer. “She recognized me, she knew who I was, and she was like, ‘Mommy! What are you here for?’ ”

The athletic teen advanced so quickly in her rehabilitation that she was out of the hospital in just 12 days. And on TODAY, she barely looked worse for wear — although she admitted she’d had help with that from behind the scenes.

“Makeup did a lot,” she told Lauer with a laugh, referring to TODAY’s makeup staff. “They covered up my whole scar and they’re like, ‘Let’s cover up this incision here.’ ”

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Meanwhile, as Brenna strives to remember what happened that day, she did find some clues in talking to her saviors Simley and Dunne, who she’d been eager to meet ever since her surgery.

“For one, I really wanted to thank them. But I also wanted to know more about like what kind of state I was in when they found me,” she told Lauer. “They said I was like talking to them and even making jokes. I was wondering if I had been calling out, and they said [that] one thing I said was, ‘No one can hear me.’ ”

Diana Fisch added that her daughter’s recovery is ongoing. She just finished a course of IV antibiotics to ward off infection, and doctors have advised her to avoid undue stimulation (TV is off-limits for now). Her cognitive skills are slowly returning — as is her desire to get back out in nature for a mountain jog.

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