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Life and Death Encounter
Brings Renewed Appreciate for Life


"'So this is how it ends,' she thought in the seconds before she slammed into a granite ravine."
    -- San Francisco Chronicle on Amy Racina's harrowing life and death wilderness encounter

Dear friends,

Amy Racina's real life encounter with death brought her face to face with her own mortality. Severely injured after a long fall while backpacking alone many miles deep in a remote wilderness area, she made a decision to live. Against all odds she not only survived, but developed a newfound appreciation for life. Her inspiring story below, as related in the San Francisco Chronicle, has inspired many to live life more fully in each precious moment. May we all embrace the precious gift of life and the joy of opening to ever deeper connections with all around us.

With heartfelt love and best wishes,
Fred Burks for PEERS and WantToKnow.info
Former language interpreter for Presidents Bush and Clinton

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/12/02/NBGCDFVA961.DTL - San Francisco Chronicle

Miracle in the wilderness

Every day is a good day for Amy Racina. It wasn't always that way, but crashing 60 feet into a granite ravine changed her perspective.

A seasoned backpacker, [Racina] was on a solo trip two years ago in the Tehipite Valley, a seldom-visited area of Kings Canyon National Park, which is in the southern end of the Sierra Nevada. She was 12 days into a 162-mile trip when she lost the trail she was on. As she carefully crisscrossed down the valley looking for the trail, the ground suddenly gave way and she found herself careering through the air.

"So this is how it ends," she thought in the seconds before she slammed into a granite ravine.

The fall nearly killed Racina, but the miracle -- the first of many -- was that it didn't.

Racina has published a book recounting her rescue and arduous recovery. Angels in the Wilderness ... is titled for the three hikers who saved her life after they came upon her even though she had been off-trail when she fell in a remote area visited only by a handful of people each season.

Racina, 48, has been backpacking since she was 16. She frequently hikes in the Sierra, logging thousands of miles, many of them alone. She is a backpacker's backpacker, so obsessive about reducing the weight in her pack that she cuts the edges off maps.

She is a single mom of a teenage son and runs two small businesses ... out of her home with a determined, no-nonsense personality. So after the fall, she calmly assessed the damage: Her legs were shattered -- one with an open wound exposing bone and tissue, and although she didn't yet know it, her left hip was fractured in two places; her face was badly bruised -- a front tooth had been chipped; and her hands and arms were bruised but not broken.

In what she considered a stroke of luck, her pack had fallen next to her in the ravine. She used her limited first-aid supplies to clean and dress her wounds and a sarong she always carried to wrap her right knee, which was now a gaping wound.

She set her mind to the task at hand: survival. She planned tasks she could accomplish: make soup, get water, keep warm. She even read a book she had brought, a historical novel about Aztec culture.

But Racina says her desire to stay alive kept her motivated. "I had been ambivalent about life at times and been very depressed ... but now I knew I really wanted to live," she said.

"I knew that the chances of anyone coming to my rescue were very remote," she said.

For three days and nights, she held despair at bay. Although she now believes she was in shock the entire time, she kept herself on a regimented schedule and spent most of her waning energy dragging her limp body a few hundred feet downstream toward where she thought was the nearest trail. The nearest trail head was some 20 miles away.

Every now and then she called out -- against all odds that someone would pass by and hear her. On the fourth day, amazingly, someone did. In another of what Racina calls "miracles," Jake, a man with hearing loss who was hiking nearby with his wife and a friend, heard her calls. These three -- Jake Van Akkeren, his wife, Leslie Bartholic, and their friend Walter Keiser -- are the "angels in the wilderness."

It took awhile because she was so far from the trail, but Van Akkeren finally found her. Racina had not let herself feel the fear, despair and pain of her ordeal until that point. "I couldn't afford to (feel) ... but when I saw Jake, I burst into tears for the first time," she said.

The next morning, Keiser -- a former marathon runner with a heart condition -- ran 10 miles uphill out of the valley to get help.

He came upon a group of campers -- firefighters from nearby Reedley (Fresno County) on vacation. When they heard his story, they bolted into action. One of them saddled a horse and raced off to his car, 10 miles away through the mountains, where he used his cell phone to alert the park service to the emergency.

By the late afternoon, just before nightfall, Racina was airlifted out of the ravine by helicopter and flown to a hospital. Doctors said if her rescue had come one day later she probably would have died from her injuries, or at the very least lost her right leg. Despite her best efforts, she had lost blood, was dehydrated and fighting an infection.

Yet rangers and medical personnel, while noting Racina's severe injuries, remarked on her demeanor: She was beaming. Racina was happy to be given another chance at life.

"This was one of the more amazing rescues because so many things fell into place to get her out that night," said Kings Canyon park ranger Debbie Brenchly, who was the first ranger to come to her rescue.

"When I first saw Amy, she had an amazing smile, and a great attitude, and that is so important in making sure they get out OK," Brenchly said. She said the park conducts 60 to 80 search-and-rescue missions a year. On average there are four deaths in Kings Canyon each year, according to park spokeswoman Alexandra Picavet. Many are from drownings, and alcohol is often a factor, she said.

Racina's rescue was only the beginning of her odyssey. She went through many operations -- seven on her mangled knee alone -- and spent three weeks in University Medical Center in Fresno.

"I have enough metal in me to set off metal detectors at most airports," she says gleefully.


When she returned home to Sonoma County, she was in a wheelchair and still on IV fluids. Racina spent the next 10 months in a grueling physical therapy routine. Despite her doctors' prognosis -- that she might always walk with a limp -- Racina was determined to prove them wrong.

And she did. Less than a year after her fall, she was back hiking in her beloved Sierra Nevada -- even solo hiking. Racina isn't swayed by the argument that it is too risky to hike alone.

"I don't consider it extreme risk. It's more dangerous to drive a car," she says. "I love this kind of experience enough so that even if I had died ... I would consider my time well spent."

Understandably, Racina often waxes philosophical about her second chance at life: "Whatever you're doing ... make sure it's worth your life to you."

She believes that God, or a spiritual entity, made the experience happen so that she could learn lessons about life. For Racina, who had suffered depression and had had a rather dim view of humankind, the first lesson was that she wanted to live. That realization, she says, makes her happy to be alive every day.

"No day is as bad as one of those days in the ravine," she says with a laugh, adding that the "small stuff" just doesn't bother her anymore.

Another lesson for her was that people would love her even if she wasn't strong and capable all the time. Her friends and family mobilized to support her during her protracted recovery: shepherding her around in cars, changing her IV and her bed pans, cooking her meals, and generally showering her with love. Complete strangers pitched in to help or contributed to a Web site a friend had set up for her (www.helpingamy.com), which was closed after Racina no longer needed help.

"No one was more surprised than me," she said of the outpouring of support. "My relationship to humans has changed. ... I now think that people are good."

Racina says she believes her life was spared so she could tell her story.

"People who have read my book have told me, 'You had this experience so that I wouldn't have to.' I hope that other people can learn (these lessons) without slamming into rock!" she says with a laugh.


Note: Amy's book is rated five stars out of five on amazon.com. For an even more inspiring life and death encounter which led to major transformation, don't miss the amazing true story of Mellon-Thomas Benedict at https://www.weboflove.org/neardeathexperience. And for the incredibly heart-warming four-minute video titled "Free Hugs Campaign" on YouTube, see https://www.personalgrowthcourses.net/video/free_hugs_campaign.

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Life and Death Encounter