Launa's story

Launa's story
­­ Hello friends and family, and followers. I want to share something very important to me with you. I want to share the story of my dear friend Launa. I put a lot of work into this photography project, and we both put a few tears. It is long, but i ask you to please read it and be inspired by her strength as i have been.

JUNE 14TH 2007, Kolob Utah
Launa Nielsen was headed back to camp with her friend Jordan, 
after going repelling with their church group. They had gotten 
separated from the group and were making their way back 
to the main trail. Launa focused on following Jordan 
when she rolled her ankle—and began to fall. 
The cliff that she tumbled down had a straight drop off 
and then gradually became less steep

“I couldn’t stop myself, 
I had to let myself fall, 
I hit my head on a tree trunk, 
that’s what stopped me”

A few yards from where she stopped, 
there was a second cliff about 100 ft tall.

“I didn’t realize my body 
wasn’t working together, 
I thought blood was everywhere, 
I thought my head was 
going to explode”

With the pain so excruciating that she couldn’t think,
Launa felt herself drifting away.

Jordan somehow got to where Launa lay, put her head on 
her lap and began to pray vocally in a voice that to Launa, 
was very heavenly, peaceful, and serene.

“It was at that point where 
I had to decide. Before then 
I wasn’t in the right mind, 
I didn’t realize I wasn’t breathing.

It wasn’t an okay thing 
to give up, but it was my 
choice whether to do so or not. 
I know that that is something 
that Heavenly Father did 
for me. He lifted a portion 
of the pain so that I was able 
to do my part to survive—if I wanted to. 
It didn’t take away everything. 
I still had trouble breathing. 
I still had so much pain in my head, 
but it he eased it enough to finally breath”

As soon as she decided to try and breath, she noticed that
 the Jordans voice was not as angelic as it had been before.

“I can’t describe the pain to 
you that was in my head. 
Something happened as 
soon as I hit my head.
I couldn’t think correctly
until Jordan came down.  
that’s when things were lifted up. 
when I came out of my own little 
world her voice became 
really real—and very worrisome”

Jordan needed to go get help but was torn because she didn’t 
want to leave Launa alone.

”I wanted her to stay. It was 
hard for me and hard for her, 
but I knew that she needed 
to do it. My sister passed 
away when she was little, 
I had never met her, but that’s 
why I fought, I could feel her 
there with me”

As help came Launa continued going in and out of consciousness, 
hearing small portions of the commotion. A nurse had been at camp 
and was one of the first to the scene. She kept everyone calm 
and tried to give Launa breathing aids.

“We’ve been here too long, 
We’ve been here 42 minutes, 
we need to get her off the mountain”

Throughout this time, Launa could not open her eyes. 
The only sense she had was her hearing. She heard chainsaws
 and trees falling as they tried to make a path for the helicopters to get to her.

"It was getting really hard, 
it literally takes every fiber of 
your being, you don’t realize 
how much a breath of air takes 
and we do it every second. 
I began to have thoughts like 
'Why am I even doing this?' 
and 'why not just take the easy way out?'. 
I couldn't inhale as fast at I could exhale. 
I was losing hope, getting frustrated, 
and it was dragging on.

It was such an enduring thing. 
The choice to breath  was a choice 
I had to make over and over again.

“That’s when I heard ‘Get the Oil’ 
and my mind was opened that’s 
when I knew it was going to work out, 
that the Lord was with me and was 
going to help me fight this”

and she blacked out again
Getting Launa off the mountain was the biggest challenge. 
They couldn’t move her because they weren’t sure if she 
had any broken bones, there were complications getting
 a helicopter to pick her up as well. Finally a third helicopter 
came all the way from Arizona to pick her up.

When she came to in the helicopter she heard calm voices
 around her. It registered that that she wasn’t on the mountain
 anymore but she wanted to signal that the pain in head was 
still unbearable and breathing was still difficult.

“I realized I couldn’t move 
my hands or open my eyes. 
That was one of the most 
disappointing and frustrating 
moments in my life—realizing 
that I couldn’t even do that for 
myself. I can't even explain to 
you what it is like to be paralyzed. 
All I wanted was to move my 
hands to my neck and sign that I 
couldn't breath. I was angry at God. 
Disappointed to be in a state 
where I couldn’t even open my eyes.”

The medics gave her a Glasgow score of 3 which indicates 
deep unconciousness. 85-90% of people given a score of 4 
or lower die two days later or remain in a vegetable state.

But Launa woke up.

And when she did  the biggest hint that everything was going 
to be fine was that she was no longer paralyzed. Though she 
had regained partial mobility, she lost something perhaps more dear.

“my mom was there and I didn’t 
even make the initial connection 
that that was my mother”

“waking up and there are 
all those cards, and memories, 
and people that say hi…
and you have no idea who they are. 
I felt loved, and that people were
 worried, but I didn’t know 
who they were.
I felt stupid,

They told her that things would come back as she interacted with her 
peers and got back into a normal routine.

Therapy was hard, She had to relearn how to walk. Though she 
hadn’t broken any bones, her body could not remember how to 
walk so they started with the principles of walking. She progressed 
from crawling, being in wheel care, to using a walker. 
Finally, a month later, she was able to walk on her own which
 was a feat she conquered pretty quickly compared to others in similar situations

 “That was definitely a blessing. 
I had to be thankful step by step 
because I was making progress 
I wasn’t’ supposed to be making."

though she made tremendous progress 
in her physical restraints, trying to regain her 
memory was a challenge that took a bit longer 

“when they put a chart in front 
of you with a hammer and ruler and 
you can’t name those things, 
it’s really frustrating”

The hard thing with brain injuries is that no two are the same so 
they can’t say ‘you’ll going to make x amount of progress this year.
 Because of these struggles, Launa was academically unprepared to
 stay in a public school. The only thing the schools in her hometown 
near Las Vegas could offer was to put her into Special Education. 
Fearing that doing so would hinder rather than help her get back 
up to a normal level academically, her parents decided to move to 
Provo where she could be put in a private school and be sure to not 
use the accident as a crutch that would keep her back from being 
the best she could be.

After being told by doctors that her memory would come back 
as she interacted with her friends and at school, Launa was 
extremely reluctant to leave

“I was so mad at my parents 
for making me leave, I wanted to 
learn more about myself, my   
past, and my family. Looking back 
though, that really was the 
best thing they could have done. 
Myfather left his practice in 
Vegas and came to Provo without a job, 
and miraculously the BYU Health 
Center was hiring. My parents 
had to be separated while they 
sold the house. They sacrificed 
so much for me and all I could 
think of at the time was how pissed 
I was at them”

The move was a really frightening thing for her. She had a new school, 
she had to make new friends in a place where everyone was really smart. 
Place that on top of her circumstances and you’ll be able to picture 
just how vulnerable she was.

My vocabulary was really low, 
and it’s hard to judge where 
I was at because you can only 
be tested on so much, and you 
just don’t know what you don’t know
I knew my alphabet,
I had to relearn how to tie my shoes.
I began to write my numbers backwards,
Though most my basic math skills stuck.
It was hit and miss.”

The first year was the hardest. Launa had constantly faced the 
question of “do I just not know that, or does everyone not know that?”
She began the process of reclaiming her memory and a learning new 
and old things every single day.

“I would remember certain words 
that were connected, so I would 
say things like ‘what clock is it?’ 
when I meant ‘what time is it?’”

three years after the accident, Launa found herself still learning 
what she had forgotten.  In a history class where they were taking
 a diagnostic test, so that the teacher could gauage where to go 
with this lessons the rest of the semester.

“He had us read what we thought the 
answers were to each questions. I knew 
my turn was coming up soon and was 
terrified. I got a question about 9/11 and 
I didn’t even know about it. It wasn’t a 
fun situation, people laughed, but they 
didn’t know my circumstances.”

When Launa explained to me her process to recovery she said that 
some things came to her as a memory, and some things were totally new
 again. It was much like reading a book for the second time, you 
remember a few plot points but the details are fuzzy until you read them again.

Soccer was one of the things that came back to her pretty quick. 
It was through a soccer league that she joined that she met some 
friends and gained the courage and confidence to finish high 
school at a public school.

Launa has come impressively and miraculously far since her accident. 
It’s no longer something that she is fighting every day.
She has noticed that now she is able to work really hard at something 
to complete it. 

“I learned that I could do pretty
 much anything from working so hard and 
enduring it for so long, simply because I 
had no other choice but to do so.”

“A lot of people don’t notice it until they 
become a little closer with me and start 
to notice there is something a little off. 
I not fully aware, or maybe I don’t understand
 random simple things, but it’s not 
something that I could be picked out 
of crowd for”

There were some things that were just plain old different 
about Launa after the whole ordeal. The progress she has made
and the person she has become has been inspiring. 

“I was really OCD about things like folding 
my clothes, or sharing my things, but after 
my accident it was like a I had a personality 
change, I was much more laid back. 
Part of it was the injury to my head, 
but going through something so hard just
 made me realized what’s really important

There are a ton of people out there with trials,
 accidents, strokes, age, and other 
difficulties. We don’t often take the time 
to recognize what trials others are going 

“I see a new light. A new light on life and 
on what people are and their meaning. 
They are human, they are going through 
real trials. I have a new outlook on what 
relationships with people should be like 
and what is truly meaningful in life,

It just became easier to treat people better.”

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