EDINA, Minn. (WCCO) —  One look at her underwater photography and you immediately feel Melissa Thomas’ passion.

“She calls the sea her home,” explains her sister, Becky Blake.

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But it’s the sight of Melissa cradled in the arms of Monterey, California paramedics that has Blake and her family feeling Melissa’s pain.

“It was probably the hardest week of my life,” adds Blake, referring to the days spent at her sister’s hospital bedside.

The 48-year-old Thomas was on a scuba diving trip with three friends off the California coast on Sept. 30th. After pausing briefly to watch a pod of humpback whales pass by, the four divers went on their way in the 24-foot boat.

“My sister was on the front of the boat as a spotter for whales. She yelled ‘whale’ just as they hit a whale,” Blake said.

The violent collision with a 30-ton humpback sent Thomas smashing headfirst into the boat’s windshield. She was then thrown into the railing of the boat, causing lacerations and broken bones, cracked vertebrae and severe nerve damage.

“She also has two contusions on her head, a fractured jaw, so her jaw is wired shut,” Blake said.

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Melissa was rushed to Natividad Medical Center in Salinas, California. She is now starting physical therapy to heal her injuries and hopefully regain the full use of her left arm.

Melissa’s mother, Judy Nelson of Edina said, “She’s starting to move her fingers a tiny bit — she moved her thumb and elbow a little bit.”

Whale experts say the California coast is seeing many more whales this year due to larger schools of anchovies.

Nelson is thankful her daughter’s accident wasn’t worse and that others on board escaped serious injuries. She calls it a risk that is relative to the waters.

“The thing we worry about in Minnesota is flying carp, and people get hurt by those. But not a whale,” added Nelson.

Melissa will likely have to undergo months of intense physical therapy. She remains driven by the draw of her passion for the sea — a place to photograph nature’s majesty, which is something that’s both delightful and dangerous.

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If you would like to contribute to Melissa’s medical expenses a GoFundMe account has been established.