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Woman shares harrowing tale of survival that almost included cutting her own leg off

Noel Shannon is shown at Harborview Medical Center before surgery to remove her leg following a harrowing accident and fight for survival. (Shannon family photo via Facebook)
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Noel Shannon was always strong. But she never knew how much strength she really had until she was faced with a harrowing struggle for survival after getting trapped beneath her truck in a rollover accident in the middle of nowhere.

Noel, 23, recounted an ordeal that included her considering cutting her own leg off in a conversation with KIRO Radio's Dori Monson Friday.

The Walla Walla-area woman was driving in her 1996 Toyota pickup on a rural road in the Oregon mountains near her home July 5 after taking pictures, when a deer ran out in front of her.

"I swerved and went to hit my brakes but my brakes didn't work, so I just slid and I tried to overcorrect and then slid the other direction and hit the bank and my pickup rolled over several times," Noel tells Dori in a conversation from her hospital bed at Seattle's Harborview Medical Center.

"I stayed in the cab but my foot decided that it wanted to shoot out the window and when the pickup finally landed it landed directly on my leg."

Noel quickly realized her leg was not only badly injured, but trapped.

"I had tried everything possible and there was no getting my leg out from underneath that."

She screamed for help and honked the horn, but soon realized she would have to survive on her own.

"I was so panicked I wasn't getting out," she says. "I was already bleeding so much and I lost so much blood and I knew that if I didn't get out of there soon and get help that I'd bleed to death."

For hours, she tried digging with a pen and her keys to free herself. Several times she got close, only to have the truck dig deeper into her leg. As she got desperate, she began to consider the most extreme of measures -- cutting off her own leg.

"I had just my keys so, I didn't know if it would be possible. It's a scary thought."

But in a last ditch effort, she finally pulled her severely damaged leg free. Somehow, she managed to muster enough of the little strength she had left to kick out the windshield with her good leg. It was then she realized how badly injured she really was,

"It (the blood) was just pouring out like a stream, so I took a sweatshirt and twisted it up and tied it around my leg for a tourniquet to try and stop the bleeding."

Noel tried to crawl for help, but didn't get far.

"My idea was I was going to push my body down the road and then pull my leg towards me and push again pull towards me," she says. "And as I was doing this I think I only made it like 15 feet before I decided I was too weak and too dizzy, I had lost too much blood, I had to lay there until somebody came to the rescue."

Several hours later, a pair of men out target shooting spotted the wreckage and pulled over.

"They were like angels from heaven," she says.

The men drove her home, where her mother raced her to the local hospital. From there she was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center.

Despite her heroic battle for survival, her leg was too badly damaged. Doctors ultimately had to amputate her left leg from the knee down.

"It's really tough, but it's something I'm going to have to live with," she says.

But she's trying to keep her spirits up.

"I can't really change how I am now, so I might as well stay positive, you know."

Noel had been planning to return to school to study business and ultimately become a personal trainer and open her own gym. The athletic 23-year-old with the steel will says while she'll be slowed, she won't be stopped.

"I feel like it's going to make my career decision a lot harder to achieve but it will be so worth it in the long run," she says. "It was kind of a blessing in disguise."

Noel remains hospitalized at Harborview as doctors work to control her pain. She hopes to return home to the Walla Walla soon.

A Facebook page and fund have been set up to help offset Noel's medical costs.

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Listen to Dori Monson every weekday at 12noon on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM. Seattle's News, Seattle's Talk.

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