I Was Paralyzed After Falling from a Tree. I Learned to Walk Again with My 1-Year-Old Daughter

For Ohio woman Leah Weiher, it started as a normal morning on Nov

Published Time: 12.05.2024 - 14:31:04 Modified Time: 12.05.2024 - 14:31:04

For Ohio woman Leah Weiher, it started as a normal morning on Nov. 5, 2023, as she and her then-partner Mason Darnes were on a hunting excursion. Instead, the day turned tragic as Weiher fell 15 feet from a tree, leaving her paralyzed. At the hospital, doctors told Weiher that due to her injury, there was no guarantee she would ever walk again. But with physical therapy and the love of her 1-year-old daughter Laken, a miracle happened. Here, Weiher, 24, shares her story with PEOPLE, in her own words.

Mason and I were at Battle Darby Creek Metro Park in Galloway, Ohio, hunting on public land. We walked about a mile-and-a-half to get to the tree stand spot, parked off the road and walked down the creek bright and early in the morning.

We put our stuff down and I started climbing up the tree. Eventually, I ran out of sticks to grab onto, and I don't know if I was tired or what, but I mistakenly grabbed onto Mason's stand and it instantly unfolded. I fell straight back with it and landed on our crossbow.

I couldn't move and instantly thought I was dying. I remember staring at the sun and Mason said that I had a death moan. He instantly called 911, but we were in the middle of the woods.

It took about 35 minutes for the ambulance to get there. Then medical responders ran an IV and gave me pain medication, which completely knocked me out. I do not remember getting from the ground to the ambulance, but I do remember waking up in the ambulance to super bright lights — to the realization they were cutting my clothes off of me.

After probably about an hour in the ICU room, doctors came and said that I would need to have surgery if I wanted to have the chance to walk again. If I didn't have the surgery, then they said there was no way it would happen, because due to the fracture on my L2 vertebrae, the bone was pushing onto my spinal cord, which is what paralyzed me. 

My mom did not want me to get the surgery, but it was also the only option to potentially make things better. So I did it.

I spent a little over a week at the hospital before I was taken to the Ohio State Dodd Rehabilitation Hospital. At that point, I could not do anything with the left leg. In order to even stand up, I had to be connected to this ZeroG machine. I used a walker, and my physical therapist would take my legs and manually walk them to try to get my brain connected to my legs.

I also did a lot of upper body strength training, because it wasn't known if I'd be in a wheelchair forever or not.

While at Dodd, I was eventually able to wiggle a toe on my left leg.

Although I had been getting movement back in my right leg a lot faster, I had begun to think the leg leg wasn't going to improve because it hadn't been for so long. So when I got the toe wiggle, my mindset completely changed. I was like, "Okay, it's coming back. I'm going to get everything back." And it definitely gave me a lot more hope.

My mom and my sister took care of La -

ken the entire time I was in the hospital, and they would bring her to see me a lot. She could sense something was wrong.

I think she was scared to sit up on the bed with me or wasn't really sure why I wasn't being the normal up-and-walking mom. It was hard, I could sense.

By the time I left Dodd for home on Dec. 20, I was still in a wheelchair and could not walk at all yet. Shortly after that, though, I did start using the walker, and by January, I could manage a couple of steps while using it.

During all of this, Mason took me back and forth to physical therapy and was my main caregiver. But he ended up leaving the relationship. It was too much on him. So I had to push myself even harder to continue recovering. Although it was really hard, it also motivated me.

Laken was also a big motivator. I know many people would probably say, "Oh, I couldn't do it without this person," and I truly believe in my heart that I would not have been as motivated if I didn't have my daughter because seeing Laken walk or take her steps made me take mine.

I took my first steps again at home. I walked in my kitchen to my front door and back, so maybe 15-20 steps? It was a very slow process, but I still did it. Laken was walking with me at the same time and she was thrilled and cried. Walking together with her was indescribable. I felt like I was dreaming. 

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Now, depending on the day, and if I've had physical therapy or not, I can usually walk pretty far, although I usually only go to stores as long as they have electric scooters because I tire very quickly. I also can't lift things or carry things and walk at the same time yet.

I have to get more stability and balance, but it's been really good. I still need help with some things, but overall, I'm independent. 

The only thing I don't have back yet is my left leg. I can't lift it on its own. When I get into the car, I have to pick it up with my arms — so we're trying to work towards that in physical therapy.

Looking back at how I've dealt with it and how hard I've pushed myself, I now know that I'm a lot stronger than I thought.

Statistically, it is a miracle that I'm walking, especially this soon. My goal was to be walking by my year anniversary of the accident, and I completely blew that out of the water. I was walking in four months.

“Never give up" is my takeaway from my accident and my recovery because you naturally want to give up in situations like that sometimes. If you're not in a good mental head space, then you're going be like, “I can't do this or it seems impossible,” but it's not. You just have to push yourself.

A GoFundMe was created to help assist in Weiher's ongoing recovery.

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