In the blink of an eye: Heidi Schindler faces toughest challenge …

June 2010 Posted in People

By Brenna WiegandCari Bauman, left, organized the dinner and auction to benefit her good friend, Heidi Schindler; who became paralized after a fall while snowboarding.

Heidi Schindler was having the time of her life – a stolen weekend snowboarding in amazing weather at Schweitzer Mountain Resort in Sandpoint, Idaho, one of the Northwest’s premier ski spots. Friday and Saturday morning had been incredible. After lunch she and friend Mitchell Fessler decided to get in a few more runs before calling it a day. Saturday, Jan. 23, was when Heidi’s life took a 360-degree turn.

They headed for the terrain park, where a nice three-jump series awaited. Mitchell went first in order to position himself below with the camera to catch Schindler midair.

But she didn’t show.

With nearly 10 years’ experience behind her, Schindler knew her position was a little off as she lifted off the first jump.

“As I flew about 20 feet in the air, I realized I was facing the sky,” she recounted. “I came down flat on my back. Someone said my legs went over my head.”

HEIDISTRONG 2010 benefit
Saturday, June 5,
6 p.m. silent auction opens 7:30 p.m.
chicken dinner and oral auction
Bauman Farms
12989 Howell Prairie Road NE, Gervais
Tickets, $25, at Bauman Farms or
Long Brothers in Woodburn; or through Sue Munson,
503-949-3248; Liz Schaecher, 503-949-3159;
Cari Bauman, 503-989-1497;
Kelly Long Howard, 503-951-0321
or Eliza Ryan, 503-991-6844
Auction donations are welcome.

She’d fallen like this before and instantly dreaded how sore she’d be. But when she tried to roll over, Schindler realized she couldn’t feel her legs.

“The weirdest thing was, it didn’t hurt,” she said.

Though she was swiftly LifeFlighted to a nearby hospital, Schindler didn’t go into surgery for eight hours. The first surgery was to straighten her spine using two rods and eight screws. The next day, surgeons went in through her side, collapsing a lung and pushing ribs aside in order to remove the crushed T9 vertebrae, build a cage around it and put it back where it belonged.

Schindler ’s parents, John and Diane Schindler, and her sisters, Tina and Lisa, had raced to her side.

Diane Schindler said she had viewed her daughter – an all-around athlete and the daredevil of the family – as being nearly invincible, adding to the unreality of the whole situation.

What a parent feels upon getting such news is indescribable, but they were much encouraged when they arrived and could see for themselves that “Heidi was still Heidi.”

Schindler ’s good friend, Cari Bauman, felt better once she got to Idaho and saw Heidi’s room-brightening smile, but the severity of her friend’s injury hit home as she witnessed Schindler try to sit up for the first time. Just recalling it brings tears to her eyes.

“I will never forget it – ever,” she said.

Nine days in Idaho were followed by four weeks of intense physical therapy at the Rehabilitation Institute of Oregon. Schindler didn’t make her way home from that weekend for 40 days.

“Nothing is fast anymore,” Schindler said. “It’s like being a baby again. They say I have to give myself time and have patience – two of my worst things.”

Schindler, a 2001 graduate of Silverton High School and 2005 graduate of Oregon State University, was employed at GardenScape Nursery in Gervais. She loves the outdoors and couldn’t stand the thought of being behind a desk all day. She’d much rather be out running, mowing the lawn, working out, swimming…

“I don’t think people realize how fast your life can change,” she said. “It all happened so fast.”

Now all of her energies go into the simplest of tasks. Just getting ready to face the day takes two hours and involves five or six transfers in and out of her wheelchair.

“By then I feel like taking a nap,” she said.

Several times a week Schindler goes for intense physical therapy that taxes her mind and body like no college class or sport has ever done, leaving her exhausted. It’s then when her invincible spirit and drive can veer off course.

Taking it day by day, she’s found, is a much better idea than wondering what the next months and years will hold. Still, there are days when she’s just plain angry; other days, she said, “I just cry.”

“The doctors don’t know if I’ll walk again,” said Schindler, explaining that her spinal cord was kinked rather than pierced or severed. “They don’t want to give me false hope.”

But hope has come, not just from her positive attitude and the love of her family, but from a sea of friends and family whose names read like a Mount Angel phone book. A ramp was installed at the Schindlers’ home, along with heavy-duty rehabilitative equipment that would have cost thousands of dollars. All these items had been used by someone’s family member who no longer had need of them.

Folks, some they don’t even know, have demonstrated their desire to help in myriad ways.

“It’s hard to accept so much from others,” John Schindler said. “It’s been unbelievable and it has meant so much to us.”

There are even bright orange ‘HEIDISTRONG’ bracelets and T-shirts that help Team Heidi proclaim their support.

Cari got busy and secured the use of her family’s Bauman Farms for a fund-raising dinner and auction this Saturday. She was quickly joined by several family members and hundreds of donations to make it happen in grand style. “…Sounds like it’s going to be fun!” Schindler said.

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