MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A central Minnesota woman is fighting for her life after a freak accident left her nearly paralyzed.

Alyssa Pfannenstein, 25, was sitting in a hammock with her boyfriend Justin Janssen over Labor Day weekend, when one of the 15-foot birch trees it was attached to came crashing down on top of her.

She broke her neck and has months of recovery ahead of her, but her spirit is far from broken.

“People do it all the time, we’ve done it all the time, we are very adventurous,” Janssen said. “We didn’t expect something like this.”

Watching her 4-year-old daughter play in a park near Bemidji, Pfannenstein and Janssen set up their hammock between two large birch trees. They had no idea one tree was rotten from the inside.

“All of the sudden this big boom hit me in the back of the head,” Pfannenstein said.

“It was surreal. At the moment, there was not even time to panic because it happened so quickly,” Janssen said.

Pfannenstein’s neck was broken and she found herself unable to move, but she still found the strength to comfort her loved ones.

“Her calmness calmed me and her daughter down and made us understand everything would be OK,” Janssen said.

Her attitude hasn’t changed over the last 12 days at Hennepin County Medical Center. That attitude is a big part of the reason doctors see Alyssa is already making progress, able to feel touch and praying she will make a full recovery.

“We just want to appreciate every miracle,” Janssen said. “Accidents happen and we will get through this like anything else.”

Pfannenstein will soon enter a rehab facility to work on regaining mobility and strength.

The family has started a GoFundMe page to raise money for her ongoing medical expenses.

It can be hard to spot a rotten tree. Some signs are branches with no leaves, damaged roots or fungus.

Comments (6)
  1. Sheri Meyers says:

    Give me a break! They’re too stupid to actually look at the trees before using them to put likely over 300 lbs (2 people) onto them. Then, when she gets a Darwin award, suddenly she’s strong and amazing and wonderful? GIVE ME A BREAK!

    My neck is at nearly an internal decapitation because of a genetic condtion doctors don’t care to learn about, and I’m going to die because my heart and lungs can’t even get a proper nerve signal to keep them working, anymore. Yet people who literally are too stupid to not hurt themselves are not only news, but are given sympathy? Come on! This is able-ism; just because someone was ‘normal’ and their own decisions caused them harm isn’t supposed to mean they’re more worthy of life and medical treatments than someone like me who was born with an incurable, progressive genetic condition (there are only about 10 million of us in the US alone) with a monumental list of co-morbid conditions that must be treated and controlled if we’re to live any version of a decent life, or even stay alive.

    Think she’s so bad off? Try having your brain deprived of oxygen because your brainstem is getting pushed and pulled in and out of your head and crushed by improperly placed bones while also cutting off the blood supply randomly. Try living knowing that every single time you move you’re at a high risk of dislocating multiple joints, including your C1-C2 vertebra, and that if you go to a doctor about it there’s a 99% chance they know less about the condition than Copernicus did 1,000 years ago. Try having people shame and blame you constantly – especially the medical community – for being born with this, then having the county/state tell you that you’re less than human because of your disability so you deserve no services and no rights only to have the cops reiterate that you have absolutely no rights while they physically assault you for trying to report a sexual assault as a vulnerable, disabled adult.

    I refuse to care whatsoever about someone who was too stupid to care about her own safety and hurt herself because of it, when I can’t even get the neurosurgery I need to keep me alive for absolutely zero fault of my own!