A woman pulled from the rubble of the Washington mudslide along with her infant son is starting to recover physically from her ordeal after six surgeries, but she and her doctor acknowledged Wednesday that the emotional healing will take a very long time.
Certain sounds bring Amanda Skorjanc, 25, right back to March 22, when a river of mud and debris wiped out her Oso neighborhood and killed at least 35 people.
"If the wind blows too hard. If someone is pushing a bed past me, and it rumbles the floor a bit. It brings back the same sight over and over again," Skorjanc said Wednesday in her first interview since the massive mudslide. She spoke at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle to a pool of reporters from The Daily Herald, KOMO-TV and KIRO Radio.
Skorjanc was sitting with her son that Saturday morning watching videos when the lights in her home started to shake and blink. She looked out the door and, like in a movie, saw houses "exploding" from the force of the slide.
The neighbor's chimney was coming toward her. She held her son tightly and turned away from the door.
"I held onto that baby like it was the only purpose that I had," Skorjanc said. "I did not let that baby go for one second."
When the earth stopped moving, Skorjanc was trapped in a pocket formed by her broken couch and pieces of her roof. Skorjanc said she called out to God to save them and prayed rescuers would arrive quickly and find them.
"I started to hear sirens — the most amazing sound I ever heard," she said.
Skorjanc remembers hearing the voices of several men coming to her aid. She had two broken legs and a broken arm. The men lifted her son from her arms and then cut her from the debris.
"I had my eyes closed," Skorjanc remembers. "I didn't want to see what was going on. I was scared and in so much pain."
One of her ankles was crushed and might not recover fully. She also suffered injuries to her face, including an eye socket. Her doctor said she will need to be off her feet for another 10 weeks, then likely will struggle to start walking again.
Skorjanc said she considered Oso home, although she grew up in Indiana and has lived in Washington for just the past two years. But she has no plans to return to the rural community 55 miles northeast of Seattle, not even for a visit.
She said she struggles with guilt daily, because she has her family — including her partner, Ty Suddarth, the father of her child — and others who lived in Oso don't. Suddarth had left the house to run an errand when the mudslide hit.
Dr. Daphe Beinggessner, a University of Washington orthopedic surgeon, operated on Skorjanc three times and estimated her physical injuries will take a year or more to heal.
She added that the recovery of Skorjanc's son, Duke Suddarth, seems to be really making a difference in the young mother's improvement: "As he's been getting better, she's been getting better."
Skorjanc said she will work hard to get better to be there for her son, who is being treated at Seattle Children's Hospital. "He's my motivation."
The rest of her energy will go toward giving back to the community.
"I'm so overwhelmed with the amount of love and support we get every day," Skorjanc said. "We will pay it forward for the rest of our lives."