Ammon McNeely Discusses BASE Jumping Accident and Positive Prognosis
10/31/2013 – Ammon McNeely's prognosis is good, despite experiencing a horrific BASE jumping accident where he seriously injured his foot and leg. (Read the full report here and watch a video McNeely shot of himself right after the accident here. Warning: The video is graphic.) We spoke with McNeely only two days after the incident and right after surgery, and in character, he was thoroughly positive.
“I’m trying to keep positive, and I’m pretty psyched on what’s happening so far. When I woke up the morning after surgery—they did surgery all night—I looked down and my foot was still there. I was able to wiggle my toes, and I almost cried,” McNeely said. His foot was shattered in the fall and while it was bleeding profusely, McNeely tied a tourniquet to stop the bleeding; at the time, he was convinced he would lose his foot. Thanks to the fast action of his partners Andy, Brent, Dave, and other Moab locals, as well as search-and-rescue teams and the treating doctors, that is not the case.
Already, he has gone through three surgeries, the first happened when he got to the hospital, and it lasted all night. Doctors are hopeful about saving his foot, though it’s not entirely in the clear, due to possible infection, which could occur at any point. McNeely has some nerve damage that will prevent him from getting the feeling back in part of his foot near the big toe, but he hasn't lost any motor skills or mobility.
The second and third surgeries were for cleaning the injured area, where the doctors removed the dead tissue in his wound to prevent infection. McNeely says the next step is for the doctors to use metal parts to screw his tibia back together; they already plated his fibula, replacing it and putting in an external fixator, which is a metal-framed brace that is positioned on the outside of the limb and connects through it with pins. The surgery to plate McNeely’s fibula is scheduled for this Saturday or Sunday.
Down the road, McNeely will need yet another surgery to fix the hole in his leg where the skin and muscle is completely gone. A plastic surgeon will have to go in and patch the hole, ideally with material from the surrounding area, or from his thigh or abdomen. Despite the intimidating course of recovery, McNeely remains hopeful, “100% [recovery] is probably going to be like nine months, but I’m a really fast healer so I’m hoping for sooner than that.”
In reflecting on the accident, McNeely has realized a couple of things he could have done differently. With new brake lines on his canopy, McNeely would have tested them on a more overhanging object that he has jumped from before to gain familiarity with the new and updated equipment. He realized that the combination of the new brake lines and a new exit definitely contributed to his accident. “The deal is,” McNeely said, “when you’re doing these activities, and you introduce something different or on the next level, you introduce that difference just a little at a time, maybe one at a time…I just wouldn’t have put as many differences in the equation.”
McNeely credits the people he was with for saving his life. He deeply thanks Andy Lewis, Brent Cain, Scotty Rogers, Hunter, David Steiner, Grand County SAR and EMS, St. Mary’s flight crew, and his mother and family. “These guys saved me from losing my foot and possibly my life,” he said.
Despite the severity of his accident, McNeely has full intentions of returning to BASE jumping. He says, “It’s like anything else, like rock climbing—if I didn’t think it was worth the risk in the first place, I wouldn’t be doing it, so I’m not going to hide under a rock and be afraid of BASE jumping. I knew the possibility that this could happen…I’m going to jump on the horn when I’m ready and take it slow from there. It’s who I am and I can’t change that.”