Jet ski horror: ‘Water filled with blood’
One year ago today, Tessa Fleming's life turned upside down when she was involved in a horror jet-ski accident that left her in a coma and fighting for her life. Now the 28-year-old has opened up to the New York Post about that day and her brutal recovery.
I had just moved to Queens from California and this was my first time at the Rockaways. It was our last swim of the day at Fort Tilden, and my new friend Jennifer and I were in the water when we saw two men on jet skis coming toward us.
One waved and asked if I wanted a ride. "Sure!" I replied. I always say yes to new experiences. I strapped on a life jacket and hopped on. He told me not to hold onto him but to the handles - which were behind me and hard to grasp.
The next thing I remember was feeling pain all over my body, but I didn't know why.
I had fallen off the back of this stranger's jet ski.
My friends dragged my limp body onto the beach. I could hear people screaming, "It's a spinal-cord injury! Don't move her!"
The water was filled with so much blood, it looked like Jaws.
In the ambulance, I was in indescribable pain. The EMTs asked, "What's your name?" All I could say was, "Pain meds! I need f***ing pain meds!"
Then I saw what I've only heard about in movies and "Oprah" episodes: a vast and bright white light.
I didn't want to go towards the light. I didn't want to die.
Two weeks later, I was taken out of a medically induced coma.
My stomach now had a colostomy bag and a wound 7.5cm deep, 12.5cm wide and 25cm long. It felt like a blender had gone off inside of me.
Over time, my father explained what had happened. The water propulsion of the jet ski, which was travelling 50km/h, had entered my rectum and burst my colon and two major blood vessels, which caused my blood to turn septic.
I also had major damage to my bladder, pelvic floor and reproductive organs - which may prevent me from bearing children.
There were times the pain was so bad that I wish I had died in the accident. The only thing that ended those thoughts was thinking of my sisters at my funeral.
I was so angry and felt like God was punishing me with this. I'd already been through so much. I'm a rape survivor, have gone through a lot of family issues, and I'm in recovery for alcoholism and eating disorders.
Before the accident, I was the happiest and most free I'd ever been. I was six years sober, maintaining my weight and I had acceptance for my body.
I was released from the hospital six weeks later. My family and friends from California had left, and I had to navigate my recovery at my apartment largely alone.
Most of the year I spent indoors. Each day I slept 20 hours and ate one burger because I had no money, no appetite and no strength to cook. I had moved to New York to pursue writing and stand-up, but I couldn't work and had to live off my savings and with a little help from my family.
During the winter in my bed, I'd meditate. One day I saw myself in the NYC summer wearing a crop top, showing my scar and having no colostomy bag.
At the time, my doctors couldn't tell me if my colostomy would ever be reversed. I was so afraid.
In the past year, I've had eight surgeries, 50 per cent closure of my airway, memory loss, hair loss and countless procedures, UTIs and colostomy-bag explosions (that's as fun as it sounds).
But I'm happy to report that, as of April, my colostomy was successfully reversed, and I'm wearing crop tops again. Some people (mostly kids) stare at my stomach, and that's OK.
I'm learning to love my body again. My scars make me that much more unique, and, let's face it, badass. I'm definitely kinder, more patient and less fearful. YOLO - "you only live once" - has a new meaning for me.
At my lowest, I'd often ask myself, "Can I survive this?" And I know now that yes, I can survive anything.
Ms Fleming blames Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP) - the manufacturer of the jet ski from which she fell - for her life-threatening injuries.
In a lawsuit filed in Queens Supreme Court on January 1, Ms Fleming alleges the Canadian company was "grossly negligent, reckless, wilful and wanton" for not providing safety precautions about the machine's potential danger and for not including proper handholds. She is seeking unspecified monetary damages.
Her lawyer, Michael Ronemus, is representing several other plaintiffs in similar suits against jet-ski manufacturers.
"People really aren't aware that these jet skis can cause such serious injuries," Mr Ronemus told The Post. "We hope Tessa's story will help."
This article originally appeared on the New York Post and was reproduced with permission