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Human Interest

Iowa Student Speaks Out After Fall from Balcony at Fraternity Formal Left Her Paralyzed: ‘People Think They’re Invincible’

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The story of University of Iowa freshman Kamil Jackowski’s death during his fraternity formal last weekend hit close to home for Mackenzie Wollenzien, who is paralyzed from the chest down after falling from a balcony while attending a similar event last year.

Jackowski was found unresponsive around 7 a.m. on April 30 in a room at the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, where he had been attending a formal for his fraternity, Sigma Chi, according to the Iowa City Press-Citizen. He was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

“I immediately thought (of) his poor family,” Wollenzien told the outlet. “Because I had to see firsthand what my parents went through and how they reacted to my whole accident and everything, and so I can’t even imagine what his family is going through.”

Just out here trying to stay positive ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

A post shared by Mackenzie Wollenzien (@mack_dubbs) on

On April 23, 2016, the 22-year-old former University of Iowa student was attending the Delta Chi fraternity formal, also at the Lake of the Ozarks. At the time, she thought of the boozy getaway as a way to blow off steam from school with friends.

“It kind of felt like a mini-vacation,” she said.

But after a day of drinking, Wollenzien and her friend, Hanna Van Soelen, fell from a second-story balcony at their resort. She doesn’t remember the fall.

Wollenzien was taken to a local hospital then airlifted to the University of Missouri Hospital, where she underwent multiple emergency surgeries.

“I guess that first night, things were really touch-and-go, and they weren’t really sure if I was going to make it or not,” she said.

The member of the Delta Gamma sorority didn’t remember anything until four days after the accident, when she woke up to multiple tubes down her throat. She suffered an incomplete spinal cord injury, losing movement below her chest and having limited mobility in her hands and arms.

Although she’s recently been able to wiggle her toes, there’s a low chance that she could walk again someday.

Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing about my injury is easy. I'm not going to pretend that this injury has been a blessing, because it hasn't been. This injury sucks. I've been stuck in a funk lately, but yesterday something happened that had never happened before; I was able to wiggle my big toe. One of the hardest things about my injury is being able to do something one day, and the next not being able to. This is why I hesitate to tell people new things I can do because you never know if you're going to lose it or not. Some days I'm able to stand up no problem like this one, other days I can't do it at all. Life is crazy. Yesterday all it took for me to get motivated was a little wiggle of my toe. Using this as motivation to get me out of my funk today, always try and stay positive people!

A post shared by Mackenzie Wollenzien (@mack_dubbs) on

Preliminary autopsy results released Tuesday by the Camden County Sheriff’s Office found that foul play was not suspected in Jackowski’s recent death. Full toxicology results could take six to eight weeks.

Leaders of the University of Iowa Interfraternity and Panhellenic councils called for an immediate and permanent ban on all out-of-town formal events and also instituted an immediate ban on fraternity and sorority events with alcohol in response to the recent tragedy.

“Although out-of-town formals can be really fun, I don’t think they’re worth the risk,” Wollenzien said. “When you’re at an out-of-town formal, you’re at an unfamiliar place with people you usually don’t know very well, and combining that with alcohol usually isn’t a good outcome.”

“I was one of those people that never thought anything bad could happen to me, and all of a sudden, I’m paralyzed,” she added. “I think people think they’re invincible — until they’re not.”