Student crushes vertebrae in climbing wall fall

Elsbeth Otto

Only two days after the old Sherwood climbing wall closed for a year of construction, the wall saw one of the biggest accidents in its history.

Monday evening, first-year Stephanie Foster fell 32 feet from the top of the Sherwood climbing wall.

Foster landed on her back in the rubber chips at the base of the wall, fracturing her L1 vertebrae.   When she fell, Foster was working over the edge of the wall, helping clean the rock holds from the wall to prepare it for construction.

Foster is scheduled to undergo surgery to repair her crushed vertebrae today, May 1.

“She should have a 100 percent recovery assuming the surgery goes well without any complications,” said Outdoor Program director Brien Sheedy.   “However, it is a major surgery and they actually have to go in from the front, through her chest, in order to do the repair.”

The exact series of events that lead to the fall have yet to be determined, but Sheedy said they have a lot of ideas about what happened.

“We’re in the process of doing…an internal audit of the accident in detail,” said Sheedy.   “Also we acquired Alex Kosseff from Adventure Safety International to do a more extensive sort of investigation into the accident so that we can learn as much as possible so this doesn’t happen again in the future.   Once that report is out then we’ll share it with the people in the student body that are interested.”

Although they did not witness Foster’s actual fall, Sheedy and sophomore Alex Bakker who were working on the bouldering wall were the first to respond to the accident.

“I stabilized her head and helped get her breathing again and Alex called the ambulance, and the ambulance was there in six minutes,” said Sheedy.

While the damage could have undoubtedly been much greater considering the magnitude of the fall, the injury sustained by Foster is still extremely painful.

“She is in quite a bit of pain and has a pain pump,” said Ellen Collette of the Health Center in an e-mail.

According to Collette, Foster’s doctor estimates she will have to stay in the hospital for 10 days to recover from her surgery and may have to stay in the area longer before she is able to fly home.

“It would be wonderful if people could keep Stephanie in their thoughts and prayers and anyone that’s good friends with Stephanie: I’m sure that she would love visitors, probably next week maybe as soon as Friday or Saturday,” said Sheedy.

Foster is currently in room 2035 at Kadlec Medical Center in Richland, Wash.   Cards or letters for Foster can be sent through Brien Sheedy.