Just before she fell, Marilyn Breckley noticed the attic floor beneath her crack like an iceberg splitting apart.
It wasn’t one of those moments you sometimes hear about, where just before disaster, time seems to stop, thoughts become clear and movements more deliberate, as if emergency acrobatics lie in us all like an ax behind glass. The beam Breckley was standing on began to bow, and the next moment she was on the cement floor of her garage 20 feet below.
The heroics came next. Her daughter, Kristen Breckley, 8 at the time but now 9, watched from the attic door as Marilyn fell. She ran through the house to the garage and told her mom to keep still.
“I told her not to move or she could hurt herself more,” Kristen said. “I ran next door to (a neighbor’s) house who’s a nurse and told her what happened, and she called 911.”
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Marilyn said she was in and out of consciousness and doesn’t remember the fall itself. And she’s is hazy on what happened in the garage but remembers Kristen staying very calm.
“When the truss started to give, I said ‘Kristen, I’m going down,’ ” Marilyn said. “I don’t remember falling; I don’t remember hitting the cement floor. I was in and out of consciousness. Kristen said, ‘OK, I know what to do,’ and then she did it. She remained calm. I think it bothers her more now than it did then.”
Marilyn was badly injured in the fall, cracking and crushing several vertebrate, breaking 15 ribs and a bone in her shoulder. One of her lungs was punctured, and she had a small gash on her forehead. Somehow she didn’t get a concussion, but she spent a month in the hospital. The fall occurred last December as she was trying to switch on a Christmas projector in the attic that would flash an image on a window. Instead, she missed Christmas.
“The doctors said it was a miracle that I fell the way I did and didn’t split my head open,” Breckley said. When she was released earlier this year, she needed a wheelchair, then progressed to crutches and now gets around with the help of a cane and under Kristen’s careful, watchful eye.
“She takes good care of me,” Marilyn said.
For Kristen Breckley’s steely nerves and quick thinking, she received the the National Lifesaving Medal of Honor from the Girl Scouts. Kristen credits her three years in the Girl Scouts with teaching her not to move accident victims when they’re hurt and to call 911. She received the award May 11 during a year-end awards ceremony for her Troop 4865 at First Baptist Church in Smithfield.
“I was grateful, and I was very happy,” she said of the award.
In a statement, the Girl Scouts called the honor one of the highest, rarest and most prestigious recognitions a Girl Scout can earn.
“This award is reserved for those Girl Scouts who have performed heroic acts beyond the degree of maturity and training to be expected at their age,” the Girl Scouts of North Carolina Coastal Pines said in a statement.
Call it premonition or intuition that Kristen Breckley was home at all when Marilyn went into the attic. Marilyn said Kristen had made her promise not to go up while home alone and had just returned from school that December afternoon.
“She told me to promise I would never go up unless she was home,” Marilyn said. “I thought every day that I’ve got to get up there and do that before Christmas. Kids sometimes are smarter than adults.”