September 24, 2022

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A New Zealand student has “broken nearly every bone in her body” and had her left leg amputated after falling 24 metres while climbing in Yosemite National Park.

Now recovering in a hospital in California, Anna Parsons, 21, is already hoping to climb again, though the road ahead will inevitably be long and painful.

Anna and her Kiwi climbing partner, Jack Evans, had only been in the US for two days when on August 1 she slipped and fell on the tricky Snake Dike route, a well-known rite of passage for Yosemite climbers.
NZ climber Anna Parsons lies in a hospital bed in California.
Kiwi climber Anna Parsons, 21, is recovering in a California hospital after a brutal 24-metre fall from a well-known rock face in Yosemite National Park. (Supplied)

Ben Parsons, Anna’s brother, spoke with 9news.com.au and detailed a long and shocking list of injuries which have left his sister facing a $1.2 million hospital bill which continues to mount and has quickly eclipsed her $250,000 private insurance cover.

Anna hit multiple ledges as she fell, Parsons said, breaking her neck, spine, pelvis, ribs, legs, feet and puncturing her lungs.

She had climbed into difficulties on Snake Dike after she missed a climbing bolt, which would have allowed her to safely attach herself to the rock face.

After realising her mistake, Anna tried to retreat to reach the bolt but slipped and tumbled an estimated 24 metres.

The injuries to Anna’s left leg were so catastrophic it had to be amputated from under the knee; an excruciating decision the keen climber, hiker and surfer had to make.

Parsons said Anna’s fibula bone “was sort of crushed into little pieces”, while the talus bone in her ankle “fell out” and “was apparently missing somewhere on the mountain”, because her leg had suffered “an open fracture with bones sticking out”.

Anna was left hanging by a rope in agony while they waited for a Yosemite Search and Rescue chopper, which Evans managed to call using his mobile phone.

The operation to winch her off the face took an hour, but it was only the beginning.

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At the hospital surgeons presented Anna with three options to treat her heavily damaged left leg.

One possibility involved fusing what was left of her ankle, leaving the keen adventurer with a permanent limp; an alternative was doctors 3D-printing a replacement talus which would be implanted and potentially minimise the limp.

The third scenario involved amputation halfway between the knee and ankle, which would allow Anna to be fitted with a prosthesis.

Anna chose to lose her leg, Parsons said, as the amputation “presented most mobility” and ended up being a “no brainer”.

“There’s a good chance she’ll be able to climb and surf and hike again,” he said.

“So she thought about that for a while and thought, ‘yeah, that’s what I’m gonna do’.”

Miraculously, Anna suffered no permanent spinal damage and some initial worrying tingling sensations through her body had now disappeared, Parsons said.

However surgeons had to fuse some of her vertebrae with titanium implants, he said.

NZ climber Anna Parsons sits in a wheelchair in California.
Anna Parsons chose to have her leg amputated halfway between knee and ankle because it gave her the best hope of once again climbing, and enjoying other outdoor pursuits. (Supplied)

Parsons said Anna was staying “as positive as possible” and was already “talking about climbing again with a prosthetic”.

She had been inundated with messages of support, including inspirational messages from other climbers who have prosthetic limbs.

The Parsons family started an online fundraiser to cover rising hospital expenses and fly Anna home to NZ, where her medical costs will be covered by the national healthcare system.

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“She was in so much pain after the surgery,” Parsons said.

“Thankfully, she was wearing a helmet, which she always does.

“That meant she didn’t have any any head damage apart from a little cut.”

Getting Anna back to NZ is complex, as a variety of surgical specialists need to agree when she can be safely moved.

That could still be weeks away, Parsons said.

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