After 20 years working as a paramedic, Aubrey Brewer had assisted with thousands of medical emergencies. But a skydiving accident placed her at the center of her own.
The retired paramedic from New Sewickley, Pa., completed her 15th jump on a clear but slightly windy Saturday afternoon when she experienced her first crash landing. The 42-year-old was lucky to walk away from the scene, and she credits her UPMC orthopaedic surgeon with her ability to fully recover and resume her passion.
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Becoming a Solo Skydiver
Aubrey was skydiving near Grove City, Pa., in early June 2021. She had begun tandem skydiving 6 years earlier and was now well into accelerated freefall training — a process required to become an independently licensed solo skydiver. The jump was proceeding well.
“Ironically, it was my best freefall and canopy time yet,” Aubrey says of falling from 13,500 feet for over a full minute. She deployed the chute at 4,500 feet without incident and was on point with her landing pattern by 1,500 feet. By 300 feet, she was lined up for her final approach after verifying the location of the other jumpers already on the ground.
About 6 to 8 feet above the ground, she was preparing to fully flare (a term used for breaking the parachute to convert downward forward motion into a slight lift). But a crosswind took her sideways and caused her to steer back on course. That maneuver combined with a full flare caused her parachute to stall. Aubrey dropped straight down. She estimates hitting the ground at about 13 miles an hour.
After recovering from the landing, she drove herself to an emergency department to be checked for possible fractures in her wrist and significant pain in her back.
Seeing a Specialist
The Monday after her accident, Aubrey walked into a UPMC comprehensive outpatient facility for an evaluation by Mark E. Baratz, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon who specializes in sports injuries and upper extremity surgery.
Aubrey says that despite her years of experience as a paramedic, she was slightly worried. “But Dr. Baratz immediately put me at ease,” she says.
“Aubrey’s high-energy injury resulted in a bad break and nerve bruising,” says Dr. Baratz. He diagnosed Aubrey with an intra-articular wrist fracture of the left distal radius, acute carpal tunnel syndrome, and median nerve neuropraxia.
Dr. Baratz advised surgery on her wrist the next day and put the UPMC Orthopaedic Care team to work to make it happen.
Aubrey’s surgery took place at the UPMC South Surgery Center, located inside the UPMC Outpatient Center in Bethel Park. During the surgery to repair the fractures, the anesthesia team performed a peripheral nerve block to reduce pain and placed a pain pump for extended relief following the surgery. Aubrey returned to her Beaver County home the same day.
“You never forget how someone makes you feel,” Aubrey says. “Dr. Baratz made me feel that I was in good hands from the initial consultation to the surgery.”
She says his caring manner during the consult included talk about skydiving, her other interests, and even the tattoo on her arm that referenced a Rolling Stones’ song. “The next day, before the surgery, Dr. Baratz pulled up a pant leg to show me that he was wearing Rolling Stones socks!”
Aubrey credits her recovery to excellent treatment — and a caring orthopaedic surgeon and team.
Is she planning to go back to the sky? Yes, she says without hesitation, pointing to the next skydiving season that starts in the spring. “I always dreamed of flying as a kid,” she says. “Skydiving is close.”
UPMC Orthopaedic Care
About UPMC Orthopaedic Care
When you are dealing with bone, muscle, or joint pain, it can affect your daily life. UPMC Orthopaedic Care can help. As a national leader in advanced orthopaedic care, we diagnose and treat a full range of musculoskeletal disorders, from the acute and chronic to the common and complex. We provide access to UPMC’s vast network of support services for both surgical and nonsurgical treatments and a full continuum of care. Our multidisciplinary team of experts will work with you to develop the treatment plan that works best for you. Our care team uses the most innovative tools and techniques to provide better outcomes. We also are leaders in research and clinical trials, striving to find better ways to provide our patients care. With locations throughout our communities, you can find a provider near you.