HIGHLAND — Heather Blackwelder knows she's lucky she's not paralyzed, let alone dead.
In September, Blackwelder, 29, was trapped inside her crashed vehicle in American Fork Canyon for two days — with her neck broken in four places, two broken ankles and her left arm broken — before she was finally rescued.
It was only later she found out that, on top of all that, she was also pregnant.
Utah County sheriff's deputies estimate she would have died if she had gone just one or two more days without being found.
But amazingly, the Highland woman said she didn't panic while lying helpless inside her car.
"I never thought like, 'Oh no, I'm going to die.' All I kept thinking was, 'How am I going to get myself out of this?'" she said Wednesday.
Today, Blackwelder is back on her feet, albeit gingerly. And her baby girl, who survived multiple medical procedures and strenuous physical therapy her mother underwent after being rescued, is due in May.
"I've been blessed and she's fine," Blackwelder said.
She recounted her story on Wednesday, describing how she went for a drive on the Alpine Loop on Sept. 8. She made it to the top parking lot and was driving down American Fork Canyon when something went wrong.
"I don't know what happened, but from what I've heard, my car hit the guardrail, didn't break or anything, it just launched my car. And I guess it rolled down the mountain," she said.
Blackwelder's vehicle plummeted an estimated 300 feet down a mountainside. She was knocked out. When she woke up, it was the following afternoon, she said.
"My shoes were off, they had flown off. My feet were swollen, fat and swollen. So I knew something was wrong and I could barely move so I figured something was wrong with my back. Turns out I broke my neck in four places," she said. "Everytime I moved it was like shocking pain through my fingertips and toes."
Blackwelder knew she was fairly close to the main road.
"I could see headlights and hear the cars coming," she said.
But the cars weren't close enough for drivers to see her. And she had not crashed into an area where people typically hike.
Blackwelder could not find her cellphone or a flashlight. Her car was dead and the horn did not work, she said.
By the second day, when she wasn't sleeping and trying to conserve energy, Blackwelder said she decided to yell for help anytime she heard rocks rolling down the hill or saw headlights, on the off chance that someone was driving with the windows down.
"Eventually there was a response and he said, 'Do you really need help?' And I said, 'Yes, please call 911,'" she recalled.
A photographer had stopped in the area with his girlfriend. He got out of his car to take pictures when he heard the cries for help from far away. At first, he just thought it was kids playing, Blackwelder said.
But as the girlfriend drove to get help, the man followed her voice and eventually spotted her vehicle.
"And the second I saw his face in my window, I was so relieved that it was real," she recalled.
Soon, the man was stopping other vehicles on the road and the girlfriend had gone to a nearby camp. Blackwelder's car was eventually surrounded by people comforting her until rescue crews could arrive.
"They thought it was weird I was so calm. But I didn't see any point in panicking. But also I was just so relieved to see them," she said.
When rescue crews arrived, they cut the roof off of Blackwelder's car, put a neck brace on her, loaded her onto a backboard and carried her to a waiting medical helicopter.
She remained in the hospital for months. But she remembers the day she was able to walk 10 steps before getting tired.
"It felt so good because I had been laying down for so long," she said.
Today, Blackwelder still has to take frequent sitting breaks as she continues to rehabilitate and waits for her daughter to be born.
"My legs are still numb from pretty much the knees down," she said.
Blackwelder was living out of her car, sleeping in parking lots at the time of the crash. She admits that after she was released from the nursing home she was essentially homeless. Blackwelder now lives with her mother. She has a part-time job delivering pizzas. She has set up a GoFundMe page to help with expenses down the road.
"I still have a long way to go before I am fully recovered and I need some help getting back on my feet before my baby is born," she wrote on the page. "I need to get a place where I can have my girls with me, and prepare for my new baby. I am also in need of baby items such as a car seat, a crib, and newborn girl clothing, if anyone can help. I have been so blessed this far, and I'm so grateful for all the support I've been given."
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