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Ashley Judd is recovering from an "catastrophic accident" in which she nearly lost her leg and is currently unable to walk.
The 52-year-old actress and United Nations Goodwill Ambassador is in an ICU trauma unit in a South Africa hospital after shattering her leg in four places and suffering nerve damage during a bad fall in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where she has doing bonobo conservation work. It took her 55 hours to get from the rainforest to the hospital, where she's had surgery to save her leg, which has suffered major tissue damage. While there's no time frame for her recovery and the leg is currently "lame," she vows she will "walk again," saying she believes in modern science and miracles.
From her hospital bed, she explained the accident in an Instagram post and then a live chat with journalist Nicholas Kristof. The Norma Jean & Marilyn star — an experienced "woman of the wilderness," who makes two, month-plus long trips a year to the remote region, where her "life partner" runs a research camp studying the endangered apes — said she "tripped over a fallen tree" in the dark. She was out at 4:30 a.m., which she said is her normal routine there, with two trackers working. Her headlamp wasn't functioning properly and there was a tree on the path she went into at a "powerful stride," leading to the injury.
Judd immediately knew her leg was broken — and the "DNA of what an evacuation from the rainforest entails." What followed was an "incredibly harrowing 55 hours." It started with five hours just on the forest floor, during which she was "howling like a wild animal" and biting a stick to manage her pain because there was no medicine (not even ibuprofen), while one of the trackers went back to camp to get help. She recalled "going into shock" and "passing out" at points as she waited for Martin Surbeck, who heads the Kokolopori Bonobo Research Project camp – which is about 2.5 miles from the nearest village in the Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve — and others to arrive.
Judd, who said she "nearly lost my leg," had the bone reset and was carried out of the remote area on a hammock. The bone was reset again and she next took a six-hour ride on a motorbike — with a driver, someone physically propping her up and Judd herself holding together her shattered tibia. She did an overnight in a hut, then took a bush plane to Kinshasa before then being flown to South Africa where she is hospitalized.
Judd — who quipped that the hospital's blood transfusions were better than its Wi-Fi, as the conversation cut in and out — showed off the handwork of her trauma orthopedist as she lay in bed in an external fixator, a surgical treatment wherein rods are attached to the bone with pins or screws. She also referenced her father, Michael Ciminella, being there. (Her mom is singer, Naomi Judd.)
"Right now, my right foot is lame," said Judd, who suffered massive soft tissue damage and will be in the device for at least the next 10 days. "It's going to take some time for that nerve to heal. And there's going to be intensive physical therapy... Of course, I will walk again because I'm determined and I believe in modern science and I also believe in miracles. But there's no really a time frame for [recovery]. I have a journey ahead of me."
Judd described herself as being "at the edge of my very edge," during the ordeal, but she doesn't want the story to be about a celebrity injury. So she used the time to talk about her "privilege" during the experience as she could pay someone to take her out of the remote area and eventually, 55 hours later, to a hospital. She also spoke about her union insurance covering the costs of her recovery.
"If it was someone who lived there," she said of the Congolese, it "would have been the end of their options," due to limited medical care and extreme poverty. "The end of their leg — and probably their life."
Judd called for donations to Friends of United Nations Population Fund, where she's raising funds for life-saving maternal health services for pregnant women, new mothers and newborns in the DRC.
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