Island woman granted second chance at life after jumping from ferry
Mya DeRyan had a plan. She would jump from a ferry to Nanaimo into the frigid October water to end more than a year of suffering from what she was told was a terminal illness.
What she didn't count on was someone spotting her doing it – and she definitely didn't expect what happened after that.
DeRyan's unbelievable story began in March 2016. The 52-year-old artist and Ladysmith resident says that's when she was diagnosed with a terminal illness that caused her chronic physical pain including headaches and stomach pain.
Instead of letting her deteriorating health claim her life, she told her son she wanted to take matters into her own hands.
"The alternative would be to die emaciated in a hospital bed which I think is harder on everybody," said her son, Darby Peterson. "The hardest part was to watch her in that pain."
On Oct. 30, DeRyan set the plan into motion. She left behind a book with pertinent information for her son and on top of it, a note that simply read "My body's in pain. My heart is full. It's time. I love you."
She boarded a BC Ferries vessel travelling from Vancouver's Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay in Nanaimo. Halfway through the sailing near Bowen Island, she stripped down on a car deck and took the plunge into the icy water.
"It was freedom, it was liberation, it was wonderful," said DeRyan. "My first thought was 'oh my gosh, this feels like I'm swimming in champagne.'"
But her plans weren't as discreet as she had hoped. Somebody saw her take the leap overboard and the search was on almost immediately.
"Suddenly I hear an alarm and the announcement of man overboard, and all of the sudden the magical moment changed," she said.
DeRyan swam away from the ferry hoping not to be seen and the search continued for roughly four hours. She floated on her back to preserve energy and waited for the right time to slip under the water.
"I was keeping myself inflated, I would inhale more than I would exhale," she said.
But guilt set in as she watched the intensity of the search – and so did hypothermia.
"This physical pain, it was just so unbearable," she said.
It was then, hours after she decided to claim her life that a life ring floated right into her path.
She clung to it and not long after, a rescue boat spotted her and pulled her from the water. Defying all odds, Deryan was still alive after a nearly five-hour search, stunning rescuers who thought they'd be recovering a body.
It also shocked her son, who expected to be getting a call from authorities telling him his mother had been found dead.
"I got a phone call at about 12:30 p.m. from a constable at Vancouver General Hospital. He said it's been brought to my attention that you're aware your mom was going to try to commit suicide, and he kind of told me it didn't work," said Peterson. "I got [to the hospital] and she's kind of delusional from the hypothermia, slipping in and out of consciousness, but still coherent enough to talk to me and she kept saying 'sorry.'"
DeRyan spent about a week in hospital being treated for hypothermia, but that's when the next incredible part of her story materialized.
Doctors gave her news that would change her life again – DeRyan's terminal diagnosis was wrong. She wasn't dying at all.
"I think it was that moment, I was still in the hospital realizing there's got to be a plan, and there's got to be an intention," she said. "I feel like it's a new body. Any little malady I had is absolutely gone."
With a new lease on life, DeRyan said time with her son is her first priority.
"There's nothing that makes me happier," she said, tears streaming down her face. "There's nothing that nourishes my soul more."
Peterson said DeRyan plans to live with him for a few months in Vancouver as she figures out what to do with a second shot at life.
"She doesn't really know what she's going to do, she doesn't know if she's still an artist," he said. "She feels like she has a different calling but she doesn't yet know what that is."
DeRyan said she'd also like to travelling and eventually, might write a book about her story of survival.
With a report from CTV Vancouver Island's Jessica Lepp