TAHITI - Two newlyweds from California are stuck at a hospital on a Polynesian island after the husband suffered a traumatic spinal cord injury on the last day of their honeymoon in Bora Bora.
John and Alana Knight were set to return and live out their married life in Southern California after an idyllic trip when John jumped into water that was much shallower than he realized, loved ones told KTLA.
The couple was married April 7, said Dori Lancaster, a longtime friend of Alana's.
"They got married, and they're looking forward to starting their new life and taking this beautiful honeymoon," she told KTLA. "And, then, all of a sudden, in the blink of an eye, their script just changed."
On April 20, the last day of their honeymoon, John fractured his C-7 vertebrae by simply jumping into the water.
"John took a dive off one of those huts that are over the water, those hotel huts," Alana's dad, Tom Cooper, said. "They thought the water was a lot deeper than what is what, and his head hit the sand."
The injury caused John to lose feeling in his legs, and he was transported to Tahiti, the largest island in French Polynesia, where the nearest medical emergency center was located.
Following surgery, he's been undergoing treatment for a week and a half, Alana said.
"Every day is different, every hour's different. It's a rollercoaster," she told KTLA through a spotty FaceTime connection. "He thought he was drowning, so I had to jump in and get him. We thought he was paralyzed."
Doctors are still trying to determine the extent of his injuries. He's regained some feeling in his legs but has also suffered lung complications and a slew of other issues.
The trauma of the tragic accident has been compounded by the uncertainty and complications of receiving major medical treatment in a foreign country, Alana said.
The family is hoping to coordinate specialized medical transport to bring John safely back to America.
"We're just trying to get back home, and it's been a nightmare," Alana said.
Family members said it's been painful for them too, having to watch the newlyweds suffer from a distance.
"There was nothing that we could do," Cooper said. "My passport is expired. I couldn't get down there. I didn't have the funds to do that."
Loved ones have set up a GoFundMe campaign in an attempt to raise funds for the couple, who is unsure how much — if any — of John's treatment will be covered by their insurance. The Knights fear their out-of-pocket costs could exceed $100,000.
"You just don't imagine something like that happening, especially on your honeymoon," Lancaster said.
As of Thursday afternoon, the campaign had raised nearly $80,000 of its $200,000 goal.