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Local Hero: Jessica Heaney

This Vail Valley rescuer is helping victims of backcountry mishaps recover from trauma in the wild.

When backcountry accidents and rescues occur, emotional trauma can persist with lasting impacts on victims and their families. Jessica Heaney, founder of Vail Relationship Institute ( and a certified emotionally focused therapist, works with non-profit organization Big Heart Big Hands to offer free counseling to those impacted by backcountry rescue.

Before she began working with Big Heart Big Hands, Heaney heard brutal stories from her husband, who was a volunteer with Vail Mountain Rescue Group. “I started learning about some of the circumstances of these backcountry rescue missions,” she says. “And I started to wonder what happens after—what happens after these folks are rescued? What support is there for them as well as those doing the rescuing?” 

Those interested in the free support can fill out a brief application on Support for the family of a victim or first responder is also available. Heaney says it’s essential for the outdoor community not to dismiss the psychological recovery process after experiencing trauma from a backcountry incident. 

“That emotional impact is the longest lasting impact,” Heaney says. “We focus on physical trauma, but we need to start talking more about what being in such a fearful situation can do to us on the inside.”

—Kim Fuller

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