Location: Gulf Shores, Alabama
Date: April 10, 1992
On April 10, 1992, sixteen-year-old Andrea Jones and her best friend, Rachel Koets, were enjoying their last night of spring vacation in the beach town of Gulf Shores, Alabama. After an evening of socializing, Andrea and Rachel returned to the Jones family condominium shortly before their midnight curfew. Although they said good night to Andrea's mother, Kathy, the girls secretly had other plans. They wanted to meet up with some boys they had met earlier that night. Leaving through the front door would be too easier, they thought, so the girls decided to climb down the balconies from the sixth floor condo to the ground. Recalls Rachel, "Andrea looked at me and said, 'Do you think we can scale the wall?' And instantly I thought, hey, that would be cool because Andrea and I never did anything exciting or rebellious."
Rachel, who stands five feet ten inches, would go first in order to help Andrea, since the reach between balconies would be a more difficult stretch for her five-foot-three friend. Rachel climbed over the Jones' railing, clung to the balcony bars, and easily dropped to the fifth floor porch below. Andrea swung herself over the railing, and Rachel successfully helped pull her down to the porch. The girls repeated their moves on the fourth floor balcony.
Kristine Kuhn, who was watching television with a girlfriend inside her third floor condo, was startled to see a girl land on her balcony. She watched as Rachel struggled to pull Andrea's feet down. But Andrea's legs were flailing, and she screamed that she was going to slip. Before Rachel could grab hold of her legs, Andrea lost her grip and fell twenty-five feet, from the fourth floor to the concrete below.
A call for help sent Gulf Shores fire and rescue units to the scene with Corporal Mitchell Sims and paramedic Charlie Ingram. Upon arriving, Ingram immediately radioed for a LifeFlight helicopter, although he expected Andrea to be pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. She was having a seizure and bleeding from her left ear, a sign of a closed head injury. Kathy and her husband, Jerry, rushed downstairs when they heard the news about their daughter. "Words can't describe what it's like to see your child suffering and in pain," says Kathy. "All I kept thinking was, please God, take care of her and keep her alive." There was nothing Kathy could do to help her daughter, but at least she could comfort Rachel. After searching for her, Kathy found Rachel on the beach, weeping in distress.
LifeFlight airlifted Andrea to Baptist Hospital where a trauma team, led by Dr. James Leker and nurse Donna Russell, met her arrival. Tests and x-rays revealed that, amazingly, Andrea had no broken bones--she had landed directly on her head. Dr. Leker felt her head injury was so severe she probably wouldn't survive. He discussed the possibility of organ donation with Kathy and Jerry, and only then did they realize how critical their daughter's condition was.
Over the next twelve hours, Andrea continued to deteriorate as her brain swelled. In a last-ditch effort to save her, doctors performed an unusual emergency procedure, removing a sizable portion of her skull to give the brain room to swell and heal.
Andrea remained in a coma for one week, then awakened on Good Friday. By Easter, she was removed from the respirator and she returned home to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she underwent physical therapy and surgery to repair her skull. Miraculously, Andrea suffered no permanent neurological damage as a result of the accident, and today is a cheerleader at school.
Andrea and Rachel are not as close friends as they were before the accident. Andrea wishes they were, but understands that Rachel stays away because she feels so guilty. "I've learned to think before I do things," says Andrea. "By not thinking, you're hurting people that really love you and you're hurting yourself." Andrea's parents feel very lucky to have their daughter back. "Everyday I cherish that I can see her and talk to her," says Kathy, "and know she's still part of our family."