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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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 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.’ ”
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.