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OC nurse suffers severe spinal cord injury during freak accident while on vacation in Costa Rica


An Orange County nurse is recovering in a Central American hospital after suffering a near-fatal spinal cord injury during a freak accident on Sunday.

Deanne Niedziela, executive director of nursing at Providence Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo , was on a trip in Costa Rica with her husband Ken.

The San Clemente couple was a few days into their tropical vacation on a tour of La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park when everything changed.

"All of a sudden I heard a huge crash," Ken said. "It was like a bolt of thunder, or thunderclap."

He said a five-foot tree limb came crashing down from the towering trees overhead and crushed Deanne.

"This thing came slamming to the ground," Ken said. "Was momentarily stunned. What is this? And I looked over and saw Deanne laying on the ground."

Ken and other tourists rendered aid, but it would be a few hours until they could get her to a hospital.

After nine hours of surgery on Monday, Deanne is starting a slow recovery but her prognosis is still unknown.

They do know she suffered severe spinal cord injuries.

"She really has no sensation from the chest down," Ken said. "She has limited movement of her arms. No finger strength to speak of."

The goal is to get her back to Mission Hospital where Deanne oversees the Spine and Neuroscience Institute.

"They can treat her as needed and get her into the rehab unit there and see what happens," Ken said.

Mission Hospital said the medical air transport alone could cost up to $100,000.

"It is so tragic that this trip of lifetime suddenly turned into a life-threatening medical emergency," shared Jennifer Cord, chief nursing officer at Providence Mission Hospital. "We thank all the caregivers and physicians who are caring for Deanne in Costa Rica and are eager to welcome her home when she's able to travel safely."

Ken said the number one priority is to stabilize Deanne enough to fly her back to California.

"She's very strong, and I think that will help her in the long run," Ken said.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help transport Deanne back to Orange County and to help with medical expenses.

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