Nearly 40 feet high on the side of a cliff, Casey Broome knew instantly that his double backflip into the Buffalo River wasn't going right.
"When I turned backward on the cliff I started falling backward," Broome remembers. "I over-rotated on the way down and I didn't land it well."
About 100 yards upstream from the Highway 14 bridge Saturday, Broome slammed into the water on the side of his neck.
The water was deep enough that he hit no rocks, but the water impact cracked the C1 vertebra in his neck.
"Whenever I hit the water and floated up to the surface I knew something was wrong," he said. "It was all I could do to move my right arm. Two boys on the river seen something was wrong with me so they came and put me in a canoe and started paddling fast downstream."
Moments before the accident, Broome's paddling companion, Kinsey Van Evera, had jumped feet-first from the same spot. The impact nearly knocked out her breath.
"I let the current carry me downstream to the next rock bar," she said. "I kept waiting and waiting for Casey. That's when I heard screaming. My friend Beth was screaming that Casey had been hurt."
Just then, Broome's two rescuers appeared with him in the canoe. Van Evera took one look and dialed 911 on her cell phone.
"Casey was laid out in the bottom of the canoe and he wasn't responding," she said.
Two Buffalo National River park rangers were quickly on the scene and helped move Broome into an ambulance that had arrived at the Highway 14 bridge. Five miles down the road, Broome was transferred to a helicopter and airlifted to the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences hospital in Little Rock.
There, doctors found the C1 fracture and gave Broome two options: Fusion surgery with a chance of loss of mobility in his neck, or three months in a halo brace screwed into his skull to keep his head motionless.
Broome chose the halo.
Neither he nor Van Evera could believe their best float ever on the Buffalo would end that way.
"I grew up on a creek ever since I was 2 and I'm 29 now," Broome said. "I've been jumping off cliffs my whole life. But I've got a little boy now and I want to be around for him. I'm definitely going to be more careful on the river. I'm not going to do any high stuff anymore."
Van Evera was more direct.
"Just don't do it," she said. "We lived and were born on this river. If it can happen to him, it can happen to anybody. I won't ever let that happen again."
Although it's not illegal to jump from cliffs in Buffalo National River Park, ranger Casey Johannsen advised against it because of the risk for injury.
"We have signage in the park that strongly discourages it," Johannsen said Friday. "My recommendation, always, is don't do it."
There are no fines if someone is observed jumping off a cliff, but Johannsen said several people a year are injured doing risky cliff jumps.
GoFundMe Account Set Up
Now come the bills for the ambulance and helicopter rides and medical care. Broome, a $10-an-hour sawmill worker, said he has no medical insurance. He continues to heal at Van Evera's Mountain View home.
A GoFundMe account has been established to help. So far, $805 has been donated toward a goal of $3,000, which they hope will cover the loss of his sawmill pay while he heals.
They have no idea yet how high his medical bills will be.
"The helicopter ride alone will be really expensive," Van Evera said.
In the rush of dealing with the accident, Van Evera and Broome said they didn't get the names of the two men who pulled Broome from the water and shuttled him to safety in a canoe.
"Those two young men, we owe them a big thank you," Van Evera said.
(Read the original story shared by the Springfield News-Leader here.)
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