An Australian tourist said she is lucky to be alive after seriously injuring herself in a Mexican cave, but is uncertain when she will return home as she recovers from emergency surgery.
Gold Coast woman Alicia Stamford, 33, was exploring a remote cave in the Sierra Alvarez region of central Mexico with friends last month when she fell, fracturing a leg and arm.
She is now recovering from surgery in Mexico, but is unable to walk. In a tragic further twist, she learned of her mother’s death last month while in hospital.
Alicia told nine.com.au how the accident – two hours’ drive from the city of San Luis Potosi and in an area with no mobile phone coverage – has left her unable to walk and with seemingly little chance of rescue.
“I was going down an incline when I fell badly. My leg and arm were pinned to the ground,” she said.
Ms Stamford, who worked as a marketer before embarking on a tour of Latin America last year, says the four other people in her group had no first aid kit and waited two hours before some went for help.
“They tried to convince me I was not seriously injured and I was just suffering from shock. But the pain was intense. I knew I was hurt badly,” she said.
“I really thought I was going to die in there. It looked like there was no way out.”
Eventually some of her party hiked out of the cave to raise the alarm. But it took rescuers six hours to reach the cave late at night, by which time Alicia was suffering hypothermia and dehydration.
And, as Alicia recalled, her ordeal was far from over.
“When they reached me, they had to make a makeshift stretcher from a table top and tie me to it. They had to hike through the rough country with me to a truck. We then drove through a rough track to an ambulance.
“To top it all off, on the two-hour drive to hospital, the ambulance collided with a tree trunk in the dark. All the time I was given no anaesthesia.”
Despite Alicia being admitted to hospital in San Luis Potosi suffering two fractures to her left leg and a fracture to her right arm, her ordeal was far from over.
“I had one operation but that was unsuccessful. I lost a lot of blood from that and was then admitted to intensive care for several days.”
After undergoing a second operation, Alicia was told her gravely ill mother had died in Australia.
Despite having travel insurance, the hospital refused to work with her insurers and demanded daily payment from Alicia.
“Every day while I was in the ICU, the hospital came collecting money. My boyfriend had to borrow money from everyone he knew to pay so they wouldn’t kick me onto the street,” she said.
Alicia left hospital after 11 days and says her travel insurers have been “fantastic” in reimbursing her medical expenses.
But she faces an uphill battle, having lost her mobility and ability to earn a living while still grieving for her mother.
“I’m out of hospital now but still not able to leave my bed for the next two months while my leg heals.”
She is unable to move independently and is reliant on help to feed, dress and shower herself.
Alicia says her boyfriend, his family and her network of friends have provided welcome support but her travel insurance runs out in December.
She says there are now no family members in Australia to care for her following her mother’s death and she faces substantial costs for physiotherapy, counselling and medication.
“If I return to Australia, my partner won’t be able to come with me and I will lose the great support work I have here. The future looks uncertain for me. I have no idea when I’ll be able to work again,” Alicia said.
Friends and family have set up a fundraising page to raise money for her recovery.