Wright Words: Former Mrs. Idaho inspires and lifts after near-death tragedy

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 25 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

Jamie Hilton, just six weeks after her accident. During her hospital stay while she recovered from a head injury, she felt it was her responsibility to lift others.

Provided by Jamie Hilton

Jamie Hilton of Boise is unique.

It’s not because she won Mrs. Idaho and competed in Mrs. America. She’s not special just because she had a tragic accident and beat the odds to survive. She isn’t even memorable because she lived with a portion of her skull stored in her abdomen for 42 days between surgeries.

No, what makes her inspiring is that she so quickly went from being lifted to lifting others.

On June 7, 2012, Jamie, her husband, Nicholas, and brother-in-law Greg visited Hell’s Canyon to fish for large salmon. They set up on a culvert and within minutes Jamie had her first big bite. But when she pulled back to set the hook, her foot caught on a grate and she flew backward. Jamie’s head struck a boulder 12 feet below.

Her husband flew to her side and found her unconscious, without a pulse and not breathing. In these cases, instincts suggest the victim not be moved. But on that day, he heard words from heaven direct him to “lift her up.”

It may be the moment that history records her life was truly saved.

Nick listened and lifted her, and immediately she stole a breath back from the odds. He then gave her a priesthood blessing and sought help from a nearby forest ranger.

Over the course of the next several hours, Jamie would be transported by boat, ambulance and helicopter to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise. Her brain was bleeding, and each swelled compression against her skull increased the likelihood that Hilton would never again kiss her husband goodbye, tie another child’s shoe or help a friend in despair.

In a remarkable surgery, doctors removed 25 percent of Hilton’s skull and stored it under the skin in her abdomen until her brain healed. Within her own body, the bone would remain sterile and nourished until it could be safely reattached.

Imagine waking from this nightmare three days later, bruised and swollen, head half-shaved, a large lump in your belly and your face hardly recognizable. Some might have asked, “Why me?” But all Jamie Hilton wanted to do was express gratitude for another day, another breath and the opportunity to lift others.

I asked Jamie’s husband to share some insight on the hours and days immediately following surgery. His words have a familiar ring. “She felt it was her responsibility,” he said, “even right after waking up, to uplift all that came to see her.”

Lift them up.

One day, when Jamie was still in the hospital, an old friend stopped by for a visit. As they chatted, the woman revealed that she’d grown unhappy in her marriage. Nick recalls thinking, “My wife is the one in need of support and encouragement right now. Why are you bringing these problems to her?”

But Jamie thought otherwise, and took precious time to help the woman, to listen and give advice.

With time and healing, Nick sees now in his clear rear window that she’d done exactly what Christ would do.

Lift her up.

News of Jamie’s miraculous and speedy recovery spread like the sweetest kind of rumor. Soon Nick was playing traffic cop, controlling the good-intentioned visitors and doing all he could to ensure she had the rest she desperately needed.

Once, when a friend Jamie hadn’t seen in months came to visit, Nick asked her to wait in the hall. As he updated her, Jamie opened her eyes, lifted her head, gave a weak finger wave and said, “Hello, thank you so much for coming to see me.”

The thought that her friend might have sacrificed time and family to visit without a thank you was simply unacceptable. Nick and the friend were awestruck.

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