Woman says she feels 'very lucky' 9 months after fall that left her paralyzed

Woman who fell between two buildings and broke her spine now jewelry artist and considering career in therapy.

Natavan Khasiyeva, 23, is described as ‘strong’ by family and friends since the accident

Natavan Khasiyeva, 23, suffered a traumatic fall eight months ago between two buildings that paralyzed her from the waist down. (Natavan Khasiyeva)

Natavan Khasiyeva, 23, is designing her own jewelry and considering a masters degree in psychology, nine months after a fall that left her paralyzed from the waist down.

"I feel very lucky to be alive ... there's so little I can't do," Khasiyeva said. 

She was at a gathering with some of her closest friends on May 29, 2017, when a quick mistake put her in a wheelchair for the rest of her life.

One of those friends, Glen Sargent, says they were on the roof of their friend's condo near College and Bathurst streets at around 9 p.m., at which point no one had touched their drinks. 

Khasiyeva fell between two buildings at 221 and 223 College Street. (Julia Knope/CBC)

Khasiyeva stepped on a piece of fibreglass spanning the 0.15-metre gap between the roof of the condo and the bar next door. The plastic cracked under her weight, and she fell nine metres to the ground in the narrow space between the two building, breaking her spine in two places.

"She was just there and then she disappeared," Sargent said. "I was just looking at her for one second and then you hear a loud crack and a crash and it just swallowed her up completely."

Khasiyeva was conscious throughout her whole rescue, but couldn't speak and struggled to breathe.

"I didn't feel that much pain," Khasiyeva said. "I think the adrenaline kicked in."

This picture was taken from the alley behind the two buildings Khasiyeva fell between. This 0.15-metre gap is also blocked from the ground in the alley, so the fire department had to pull her up to the roof. (Julia Knope/CBC)

'It was just absolute terror'

"Everyone just went quiet and then the yelling and the running started to happen. It was just absolute terror," Sargent said.

The gap Khasiyeva fell into was blocked on either side from the street by walls, so the only way friends were able to reach her was through a window on the second floor.

Another friend, Paris Kaperonis, 24 at the time, was thin enough to fit between the buildings. He climbed through the window and stayed with her to help when rescuers arrived. 

Khasiyeva and her uncle, Teymur Asadov, are living together in an accessible 2-bedroom apartment. (Natavan Khasiyeva)

"It was scary, I didn't want to move her," Kaperonis said. 

Toronto police and firefighter arrived within five minutes. With the help of Kaperonis, they were able to pull Khasiyeva up to the roof and get her to St. Michael's Hospital.

Doctors said she would not walk again

Teymur Asadov, Khasiyeva's uncle, remembers being called by police and told his niece had been in a serious accident.

"When I came her friends were there and said she didn't move her legs ... I talked to doctors and they almost immediately confirmed that she would not walk again," Asadov said.

Khasiyeva with friends in hospital a week after her surgery. Glen Sargent, left, and Paris Kaperonis, right, started the campaign for her recovery that raised over $60,000. (Glen Sargent )

Khasiyeva was taken to surgery about a day after her fall, where two metal rods were put in her back to support her spine.

The doctor told her she was in the one per cent of survivors who didn't suffer serious brain or head damage after falling from a height of that magnitude. 

"'Don't worry uncle, I am strong. I don't seem so, but I am strong,'" were the words Asadov remembers her saying to him before her surgery. 

Asadov called to inform her parents of the news, who were both living in Azerbaijan at the time with her sister.

"That's when I started crying as well," he said. "Her mom started screaming and her dad was completely lost because he didn't know what to think."

Khasiyeva creating her jewelry in the home-studio she works in with her mother. (Natavan Khasiyeva )

Her parents then immediately made arrangements to come to Toronto. 

"She was not fearful ... I remember crying and she was the one saying it was going to be OK," said Natalie Tran, a friend who was also at the gathering. 

'Natavan's Recovery Fund,' a top 2017 campaign 

After being released from hospital, Khasiyeva spent a month and a half in the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute Lyndhurst Centre, where she worked to increase flexibility, regain ab function, increase muscle strength and manoeuvre her wheelchair.

Khasiyeva's jewelry is featured on Etsy and Made You Look, a Queen Street West jewelry store. (Natavan Khasiyeva )

They also helped her with her emotional recovery, something she said is still a work in progress.

"I feel like a lot of the emotional rehabilitation was just talking, not necessarily about what happened but just talking about how I feel about everything around me, about what I've lost, about I'm looking forward to doing," she said.

After quitting the restaurant job she was working at before the accident, she moved into an accessible two-bedroom condo with her uncle. Her mom is still living with them on a temporary visa.

To help her with her wave of new expenses, Kaperonis and Sargent decided to launch a campaign for Khasiyeva's called Natavan's recovery fund, which became one of the top ten grossing GoFundMe campaigns of 2017, raising over $60,000 for her and her family.

Khasiyeva said this is a 'sneak peak' at her latest jewelry collection. (Natavan Khasiyeva )

Although Khasiyeva's medical bills were covered by OHIP, the money allowed her to pay additional costs such as condo expenses, custom leg braces and bathroom equipment. 

'It's not easy' 

After realizing she couldn't make a career for herself in the restaurant industry, Khasiyeva started creating jewelry in a home-studio with her Mom. She has sold over 100 items on Etsy, an online buying and selling community, and has recently launched a line at jewelry store Made You Look on Queen Street West.

"It's still not easy when I think back on what I had, but I think I have also come to love what I have now," Khasiyeva said.

With a double major in microbiology and psychology, Khasiyeva is considering going back to school to get her master's degree in psychology to pursue a career in therapy or disability studies.

Asadov said she told him this is the second-happiest she has been in her life, the first being right before her surgery.

"I have good days and bad days, but mostly good days," Khasiyeva said.