A Naperville woman partially paralyzed Monday in a rappelling accident in southern Utah could be headed to a rehabilitation facility as early as next week.
Brittany Fisher, a 21-year-old Utah State University student, was beginning her spring break rappelling in the Cougar Cliffs in Red Rocks Desert just before sunrise Monday morning when she apparently lost control and fell 50 to 60 feet to the earth.
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Once rescuers were able to hike in and retrieve her, Fisher was airlifted to the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas, where she underwent a 10-hour spinal surgery.
Brittany's brother, Braden Fisher, also a Utah State student, said she suffered a serious spinal cord injury that left her unable to feel her legs but with some sensation in her toes.
He said she had a rod placed in one leg during surgery Monday and pins installed in her right foot.
"Her left foot's pretty banged up, too, and will need some work but the swelling is too bad to allow anything to be done right now," Braden Fisher said Friday.
Brittany was listed in fair condition Friday and able to sit in a wheelchair and go outside. The family, her brother said, is overwhelmed by her positive attitude.
"She's way more positive than I would be at this point. She is very optimistic. I talked to her this morning and she's confident she'll walk again," Braden said. "Anyone who knows Brittany, knows she's dedicated, cheerful and a loyal friend to everyone. She's seen all that love come back to her this week as those friends and loved ones continue to urge her on and support the whole family through this tragic accident."
Gregg Gensel, head coach of Utah State's track and field and cross-country teams, was in Arizona preparing for this weekend's track meet in Tucson. He said he flew into Las Vegas Thursday to visit Brittany and let her know her teammates are supporting her.
"It was important for me to do that because Brittany is such a great teammate and is always the one encouraging and pushing her teammates, so I had to let her and her family know we are here for her," Gensel said Friday afternoon. "She's doing remarkably but I wasn't surprised by her very positive spirit. She's already setting goals and doing everything she did as a runner and applying that to the challenges that are now before her."
Braden said Brittany, a 2009 graduate of Naperville Central High School, is a novice rappeller who may have been unprepared and likely in over her head when she headed out for the pre-sunrise adventure.
"My understanding is she and her friend were at a pretty popular cliff for early morning rappelling but the conditions were far from ideal and she didn't have all of the proper equipment," Braden said. "I've talked to the guy she was with and he's experienced and was comfortable, but I don't think she realized what a dangerous situation she was entering."
Braden said he believes Brittany was unable to control her descent because she didn't have the proper equipment.
"She was releasing rope with only one gloved hand and that just caused her to speed up," he said. "She only had one glove so when she tried to grab the rope with her bare hand, it burned her pretty bad and she let go."
Gensel said he's known Brittany to be a "free spirit" and was aware of her affinity for rock climbing and other challenging activities.
"I've always told our athletes that there's danger in everything we do, even walking across the street," he said. "Hopefully accidents don't occur but, unfortunately, this one did."