— Three years after she cheated death in a skydiving adventure gone terribly wrong, Shayna West and her toddler Tanner share a mother-son bond like no other. Unbeknownst to Shayna at the time, Tanner was in her womb when she survived hitting pavement at 50 mph while attempting her first solo parachute jump.
Now a mother of two, West returned to TODAY Tuesday to talk about her amazing story of survival and the long medical journey she has undergone to reconstruct her face after it shattered like an eggshell upon impact.
“I’ve had my share of hard times and bad luck, but in the mix I’ve also had some wonderful things come out of it,” West told Meredith Vieira via satellite. “The last three years, my babies are what kept me going. But I’ve also met so many wonderful people, and just have been blessed with everything that has come along my path.”
West’s fateful journey began Oct. 9, 2005, as she leaped from a plane over Siloam Springs, Ark., in her sixth skydiving jump, her first unaccompanied. As a video camera in the plane captured in dramatic detail, West’s main parachute failed to open properly, sending her spiraling out of control. And as terra firma loomed ever closer, her emergency chute failed to open — a one-in-a-million malfunction.
It was only when West was rushed to a hospital emergency room that a blood test revealed that she was two weeks pregnant. Naturally, West was shocked; she said she never would have jumped if she’d known she was pregnant.
But she also had massive injuries to contend with. West had broken nearly every bone in her face, lost most of her teeth, and also suffered a broken leg and pelvis.
Luckily, her fetus was so small it survived impact. But as West told KSPR/ABC television in Springfield, Mo., “The next concern was all the medications and surgeries I went through.”
Thankfully, those worries dissipated as doctors monitored her unborn and found he was progressing normally. West showed her pluck by appearing with Ann Curry on TODAY shortly after her accident and announcing she was planning another sky-to-ground trip after she delivered her baby.
Just six weeks after Tanner was born healthy and normal, West indeed made another jump.
“I don’t like to have things in my life that scare me and intimidate me or can overpower me,” West told Vieira Tuesday. “I just didn’t want this to be an exception, so I felt it was important for me to get up there and do it again.”
Still, West has been coping with the consequences of her brush with death ever since the accident. Last week, she underwent her sixth facial surgery at St. John’s Hospital in Springfield. Donating their services, doctors put in cheek implants — and, most importantly, fixed her lower eyelids.
“Until this last surgery, my lower eyelids were so pulled down that I couldn’t close them completely,” she told Vieira. “For a shower or a bath or to go swimming [or] sleeping, my eyes would be partially open.”
But even enduring multiple surgeries, West says her life has been charmed. She gave birth to a second child, daughter Bridget, eight months ago. Tanner — unaware he was a daredevil while still in the womb — had made room for a little sister, and suffers no ill effects from his mother’s horrific accident.
“Tanner is the smartest 2-year-old you’ll ever meet, and Bridget is just the same,” West said. “I have two beautiful babies.”
Reveling in the joy of raising two healthy children has been enough to keep West planted on terra firma — at least for now. Having conquered any lingering fear of skydiving with one postpartum jump, West told Vieira she isn’t definitively planning another.
“I have two much more important things to take care of on the ground,” the young mom said. “They give me all the rush I need right now. But maybe someday. I’m not going to rule it out.”