A traumatic fall in Sequoia National Park changed the course of Mia Gonzalez’s life. Mia fractured and dislocated her spine in the Fall of 2017, and was told she may never walk again. But that injury has not stopped her from living out her dream career at the Fresno Fire Department.
You can find Mia zipping around Fresno Fire’s headquarters in Downtown Fresno. She’s a staff assistant. But if she’s not here, she’s out educating children in the Central Valley about fire prevention, as the fire department’s Youth Fire Intervention Specialist.
But, Mia’s life story took a major turn about two years ago. The then 20-year old was hiking with her cousin in Sequoia National Park near Moro Rock.
Mia explained, “I decided to stand on a two-foot ledge, and my cousin was about ten, fifteen feet behind me. I decided to stand on that ledge to avoid traffic that was coming around the bend super fast, and I totally rolled my ankle, ended up missing my left foot, and doing backflips 50-feet down to almost the water.”
A log stopped Mia’s fall, and she landed in a bush on her stomach.
“I thought I had only broke my ribs, but I didn’t feel like my legs were attached, so I started to feel for my legs, and then I realized they were still on me, but I couldn’t feel them,” said Mia.
At the time of the injury, Mia was in the Fire Academy at Fresno City College. She had previously worked in Butte County as a firefighter for Cal Fire. As a first responder herself, she knew to stay calm, as it took rescuers two hours to get her out of the area and flown to Community Regional Medical Center.
“I think that it’s exceedingly beneficial that she had the access to the hospital, and having it be a Level 1 trauma center,” said Dr. Nicholas Levine. Dr, Levine is an Associate Clinical Professor of Neuro Surgery at UCSF Fresno. He was the surgeon who worked on Mia. He specializes in the treatment of cranial and spinal conditions.
Dr. Levine continued, “I remember Mia being fortunate. Now I know that may sound odd, but tumbling 50 feet and not suffering head injury and only having a spinal injury was very lucky. She could have been much more injured.”
He explains, Mia suffered a fractured dislocation of her spine, meaning her spine was no longer aligned.
“In her case, that meant making an opening in her back in the midline, exposing the involved levels of the fracture and injury, and then putting screws and rods in to realign her,” said Dr. Levine.
Mia added, “So I have ten screws in total to fuse my spine back together.”
What Mia’s injury ultimately meant was, she was likely to never walk again.
“And that’s kind of hard to take in as a 20-year old. So almost two years later, it’s still kind of processing, but I’m just trying to make the best out of it,” said Mia.
Mia’s traumatic fall has set her back, but she hasn’t let the injury stop her from living her dream in the Fresno Fire Department.
She said, “I started this career path in the fire service almost three years ago now, and I just immediately fell in the love. I can’t see myself doing anything else. I still want to be able to serve and protect the community.”
“It is not just a physical injury, there is a psychological injury if you’re told that you may never walk again,” said Dr. Levine.
Dr. Levine said it takes a special person, like Mia, to persevere and overcome a traumatic injury and continue to live fully every day.
Community Regional Medical Center’s trauma center is the only Level 1 trauma center between Los Angeles and Sacramento. The trauma center has specialists to treat serious life-threatening injuries 24 hours a day, seven days a week.