On Sunday, July 15, things were normal as ever for the Hanna family. Everyone but father Jeffrey Hanna was home. Bethany Hanna, the daughter, found a bubble machine and knew Lady, the family dog, would love it.
So Bethany, 21, her brother, Matt, 25, and their mother, Renee, went out to the porch to keep the mess outside of their Flowery Branch home.
Everything changed in an instant when they called for Lady. As the dog started up the stairs to the porch, Bethany could see on Lady’s face something wasn’t right. She didn’t have enough time to think about what it might be before the deck gave out and she, her brother and their hound mix fell 25 feet to the ground.
“I started to stand up, wondering why she was so scared,” said Bethany, a sophomore at the University of North Georgia. “But I never got to finish that sentence, because the deck fell. We weren’t jumping. We weren’t doing anything. I was just crouching there, and as I was standing back up the whole world just dropped.”
The porch completely detached from the side of the home, flipping upside down as it fell.
“I just kept thinking, ‘I’m about to die, this is it,’” Bethany said.
Both survived despite serious injuries, and are receiving help to fund their expenses. They also offer important safety warnings for homeowners.
But in the moment the deck gave way, nothing was certain.
“My feet all the sudden started leaving the deck and it’s like it was all a blur,” Matt said.
Renee was standing in the sliding-glass doorway with one foot inside when it fell. Her back was turned so she didn’t see the deck collapse. She was standing in the doorway and had to pull herself into the house before she fell.
She had her phone in her right hand, clinging to the floor. She used her left hand to grab the baker’s rack near the door. As she straddled the doorway, she pulled herself to safety.
“I saw my hand sliding and I knew. It was like I was fighting for my life, because it felt like I was falling off the edge of the earth,” said Renee, who’s been a theater teacher for 16 years. “I didn’t know how I was going to hold on and suddenly, it was like this giant roar came up behind me, and all of the sounds of what was happening behind me were drowned out.”
In shock, she ran to the lower deck of the house to check on her children.
Bethany was conscious, though she said she thinks she blacked out for a moment. Some of her first thoughts went to a popular TV medical drama, “Grey’s Anatomy.” She made sure she could wiggle her fingers and toes. She could.
She heard Matt groaning as he lay nearby. She told him he had to wiggle his fingers and toes.
“I was just perplexed by what just happened,” said Matt, who works at Kroger. “The reason I was groaning was I was trying to figure out if it was a dream or not.”
He’s on the autism spectrum, and Bethany has always played the older sister role. She kept yelling for him to wiggle his fingers and toes. He could.
Bethany was relieved to find though he was covered in what looked like blood, she soon realized it was red paint from a can that had been on the porch.
When Renee made it around the house, she couldn’t dial any phone numbers. She screamed for help. A neighbor heard and ran to the house to offer assistance. She finally dialed 911 and an ambulance arrived take Bethany and Matt to Northeast Georgia Medical Center.
Lady was next on the list of family to check. She was nowhere to be found until Renee heard her whimpering in what she said was “the worst cry I’ve ever heard in my life from a dog.”
Renee said a lot of things could have gone the wrong way. That her children survived was a miracle itself.
Some 15 years ago, she had planted confederate jasmine, a vine that climbs whatever it’s near, and it grew up three black metal poles supporting the porch. It began to overtake the porch and grow into the wicker furniture, so Renee had planned to cut it the day before. She got distracted with work and never got around to it.
“We believe that that vine for 15 years had grown so strong and had wrapped its way into that deck so much that when it fell, it held onto that side of the deck and prevented it from crashing down onto our heads,” Bethany said.
The deck landed upside down and created a sort of tent over Matt and Bethany. It never fell on top of them. In part, they have that confederate jasmine, which helped slow the deck’s fall, to thank.
Or God. Renee quoted part of the Bible verse John 15:15: “I am the vine; you are the branches.”
“I believe God did it,” she said.
When they got to the hospital, Matt was rushed to the trauma center with a stage 4 liver laceration. Doctors wanted to make sure he didn’t have internal bleeding. He did have a broken left wrist, lung contusion, transverse process fracture and concussion.
Bethany was taken to the emergency room with a broken pubic bone, fractured pelvis and broken wrist. She’s had trouble walking since the fall, but is making progress. She uses a platform walker, which is used while standing straight up and has arm supports and hand grips to keep the weight off the feet or legs.
Matt is at home now with his mother. He has a brace on his left wrist, his liver is healing and his bruising has healed since the fall.
Bethany is staying at a family friend’s home because the family home is split-level. The only way inside is up a flight of stairs at the front door. While she recovers, Renee and Jeffrey are figuring out a plan to help get her home.
Renee said friends and family have been bringing food nonstop. On July 16, a friend created a GoFundMe page to raise money to provide for the family’s needs. In the three weeks it’s been active, it has raised more than $7,000.
“It was just the sweetest thing,” Bethany said. “It was something none of us had even thought about. We hadn’t thought about hospital bills or lost wages. We hadn’t thought about any of that stuff. ... It was an amazing surprise and blessing.”
The Hannas want people to know they should have their home’s deck checked by a professional. The code only required nails 27 years ago when the their home was built. That has since changed, with screws or bolts now required. The wood had also rotted because of a lack of flashing, which creates a barrier to stop moisture from getting to the house where it is attached to the deck.
“I want people to know that if your deck is old or you’re concerned, please have someone come check it out because you never know,” Bethany said. “I mean, there were no warning signs. There was no uneasy creaking. It was just there, and then it was gone.”