A woman who was seriously injured in a freak parasailing accident in Mexico was life-flighted back to California on Tuesday night to undergo further treatment.
When Katie Malone visited Puerto Vallarta earlier this month, she figured the adventure would be the perfect way to mark her 29th birthday on June 8. Unfortunately, things quickly went awry when Malone opted to take a 10-minute parasailing ride, her brother Brendan Malone tells PEOPLE.
After Katie took flight on the parasail despite an approaching storm and strong winds, the boat that was towing her flipped over. The cable that kept Katie and the parasail connected to the vessel was severed when the boat flipped, leaving her at the mercy of the strong winds.
Brendan says the men in charge of the parasailing boat quickly took off as his sister helplessly drifted hundreds of feet into the air. Katie was carried for 45 terrifying minutes down the Mexican coastline.
“We’re beyond unhappy,” Brendan, 31, of Nashville, Tennessee, tells PEOPLE. “Those guys left the scene of the crime. They flipped the boat back over and put it back in the ocean and bailed while my sister was floating away.”
After nearly an hour, Katie crashed at the Puerto Vallarta airport, landing next to an alligator that miraculously left her alone, Brendan says. She suffered serious injuries, including cuts to her face, a fractured pelvis and skull, four broken ribs, and a collapsed and bleeding lung.
On June 23, doctors used titanium, mesh and 14 screws to repair Katie’s broken jaw, cheek and face. While the surgeries were successful, Katie — who is from San Diego — is experiencing complications with her pituitary gland, a tiny organ located at the base of the brain that produces important hormones.
Brendan says that doctors in Mexico suggested that they move Katie to the United States to be treated by specialists, and she was transported by airplane to San Diego on Tuesday night, where she was met by her father before being taken to UCSD Medical Center.
“She is just the most positive person,” Brendan says of his sister. “She makes you feel very welcomed, makes you feel like you’ve been friends for many years even if you just met her. She’s just amazing. ”
Doctors are positive that Katie will make a full recovery, though she isn’t expected to walk again for months.
“She is doing a lot better now that she is back in the states,” Brendan says. “She has a whole new perspective on everything, she is very encouraged and full of smiles being back here. That’s really helped.”
The family has recently set up a GoFundMe page to help with Katie’s skyrocketing medical bills, which Brendan says have currently hit the $43,000 mark. Katie is also facing months of recovery, which will leave her unable to work.
“Community is a real thing, and it still exists out there,” Brendan says of the hundreds of donors who have helped the family in their time of need. “This is people doing the neighborly thing for other people, and if you be better to your neighbor, you’re going to have better neighbors. That’s how Katie is, and that’s how we were raised, to be there for everyone.”
When asked if the family will take legal action against the parasailing company, Brendan declined to comment.
For now, he is focused on his sister’s recovery, having flown from Nashville to Mexico, and then to San Diego, to be with his sister.
“She is a miracle, she is progressing way quicker than most people expected her to, on so many levels,” Brendan says. “She’s great, she’s a fighter, and she is not giving up.”