Lauren Verplanck was on Big Hill with her boyfriend during the height of the snowstorm early Tuesday, checking his mom’s place, when she was struck and pinned by a falling oak tree that appeared to crack at its roots.

The 28-year-old Columbia resident lost consciousness and awoke an instant later in terror, unable to breathe properly, unable to feel her extremities, and barely able to call out or hear her boyfriend. She could hear the sounds of her own struggles to breathe and she said she sounded “like a dying animal.”

Her boyfriend, Brad Maisel, who was already cutting other fallen trees that had come down on his mother’s property, rushed over to where Verplanck was barely visible under the massive oak. He yanked on the chainsaw’s starter cord two times, and Verplanck heard the engine growl to life on the third pull.

She’s recovering now at a place she and her boyfriend share in Columbia. She said she’s still sore and she uses crutches to get around. She said she’s been told by medical professionals she has no broken bones and she should have no fear of paralysis. She spoke to The Union Democrat about her ordeal Thursday and Friday.

“I was on the ground with the weight of tree on me,” Verplanck said.

Her head was bleeding and she could hardly walk. Maisel pulled her arms over his shoulders so he could drag her to his vehicle. He drove her to Adventist Health Sonora, straight up to a front entrance, ran into the hospital and came back with emergency room staff.

Verplanck said she stayed at the emergency room from about 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. She said she still couldn’t walk. X-rays did not reveal any broken bones.

She said she’s too scared to go back to the place where the tree fell on her.

She said Friday morning she was soaking in a hot tub and that helped relieve pain in her lower back to an extent.

“I’m lucky. All I can do right now is think I’m lucky,” Verplanck said. “I’m still in shock about it. How many trees have you stood under in your life, and one falls on you?”

There were a lot of trees breaking on Big Hill that morning, she said. The tree that hit her didn’t look like it was dead. A limb didn’t break off. It was like the whole tree broke in the ground, she said.

“The most terrifying part was I was on the ground and realized I was pinned and I couldn’t breathe and tried to scream for him,” Verplanck said. “But the way my breathing came out, it didn’t even sound like me. It sounded like an animal dying.”

She heard her boyfriend struggling with the chainsaw and lifting the tree off her, and then she started feeling the pain. She thought she was going to be paralyzed, and she felt the most excruciating pain in her lower back and hips.

“I didn’t even know my head was bleeding,” Verplanck said.

Once at Adventist Health Sonora, people came out and put her in a wheelchair. She felt like she was losing her vision. She couldn’t see. She said she was still going into shock and she could feel her face go numb.

“They said it was because I couldn’t get my breathing under control,” Verplanck said. “I’m just so lucky he had that chainsaw right there. He said it took, like, maybe two minutes to cut the tree off. He said he could hear me screaming.”

Contact Guy McCarthy at or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.