The youngest survivor of last year's monstrous landslide in Oso, Washington, was just 5 months old.
Protected in his mother's arms, Duke Suddarth was alive when a rescuer sliced through the wreckage of the family's home with a chainsaw and found the pair conscious. Duke's mother, Amanda Skorjanc, suffered a fractured eye socket and broken bones in her arms and legs.
Nearly a year later, Skorjanc told NBC affiliate KING5 that she's still haunted by the hillside collapse that killed 43 of her neighbors. But on their journey to recovery, her son's survival remains a silver lining for the entire community.
"He is a light in something that was so dark and sad in a lot of people's lives," Skorjanc said. "He's the light, the little bit of hope that everybody had."
The past year has been a difficult road for the mother and son. Skorjanc, 25, said she is suffering from lingering pain. She has undergone 10 reconstructive surgeries, KING5 reported. Screws are still holding her ankle in place. As for Duke, the infant's tiny skull was fractured by the force of the debris that decimated their home, she added. Doctors haven't ruled out another surgery for him as he grows up.
"They checked him three months ago ... and said they didn't want to see him for a year, so that's huge," said Skorjanc, who still wears a cast on her left leg. "They said he's doing great, his injuries are all healing up good."
Others were not so lucky. The March 22 mudslide in Washington's Stillaguamish River valley was one of the worst in U.S. history, destroying 49 structures. President Barack Obama declared it a federal disaster area. Relatives of those killed have filed a lawsuit against the state, the county and a logging company.
Skorjanc, who is planning to marry Duke's father in August, said she's anxious about the upcoming anniversary. She's taking comfort that Duke is defying the odds. At 16 months old, he's learning to walk. His milestones have included his first birthday and his first Christmas.
"The second I see him, I smile every morning," Skorjanc said. "I want him to know how special he is, and I want him to know what a miracle it is to have him here."
- 5-Month-Old Who Survived Mudslide 'Improving,' Hospital Says
- Mother Who Survived Washington Mudslide Describes Harrowing Ordeal
- Oso Mudslide: Lawsuit Blames State, Logging Company for Deadly Disaster