On April 22, 2006, Lizzie Varr was celebrating her 21st birthday with her first skydive. A native New Englander, Lizzie was spending her junior year abroad in Cape Town, South Africa. She boarded a plane with friends to celebrate her birthday and the end of their semester. The free fall through the air was, she said, “the most exhilarating feeling I’d ever had.” But then Lizzie landed with a crash that changed everything. Fortunately for her, the experienced clinicians at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital were there for Lizzie when she was ready to return to health and to the demands of her life as a student.
A little too much wind, a little drifting from the landing site—to this day, Lizzie is not exactly sure why she and the experienced instructor with her did not land properly. But that’s what happened, and Lizzie lay on the ground with over 20 fractures, including two vertebrae. The next two weeks were agonizing.
At the scene, a videographer who was recording her jump ran a mile to get help. It took an ambulance 45 minutes to arrive. Lizzie’s mother, who’d been notified by Lizzie’s friends, came the next day—but it was six days before Lizzie’s parents could arrange for transport home to the United States for surgery. During that time, Lizzie was treated only for pain. Her flight home required nine commercial airline seats to accommodate the backboard to which she was strapped. During that flight, her father, who is a physician, watched over Lizzie.
It took the surgeons six hours to put Lizzie’s shattered body back together, but that was just the beginning of her recovery. Less than three weeks after her accident, Lizzie came to Spaulding. Initially, because she could not stand, Lizzie received therapy in bed. She was eager to get going, but her surgeon told her she could not put any weight on her healing bones for three weeks. Three weeks to the day after surgery, Lizzie stood—and continued to make amazing strides from there.
Lizzie gives tremendous credit to the Spaulding staff for her rapid recovery. “They work you from when you wake up in the morning to when you go to bed. You're constantly being pushed to get better,” she says. “The therapists are so encouraging, they make it much easier. Because they knew I went to school in the city, they took me to the subway station and made sure I could negotiate the stairs with my crutches. They also took me to the therapy kitchen and showed me how to move around safely while doing what I needed to do. They’ve done this so many times, they know what people need to practice to resume their lives.”
At Spaulding, Lizzie was inspired each day by the clinicians who worked with her and by the many volunteers who do so much for Spaulding’s patients. She says, “I saw positive results and happy faces every day. It helped me reach down deep inside myself and draw on everything I had within me to achieve my goals.” Lizzie worked hard all summer, returned to school that September, and graduated on time the following spring.
Lizzie is committed to supporting the hospital that has done so much for her and she volunteers monthly with Spaulding patients as part of Spaulding’s Young Professionals Group.