After the birth of my second child, I was struggling to juggle two young kids when tragedy struck. I received a call that a crane had broke and fallen, dropping a 7,000-pound beam on my husband, Vince, while he was at work. It was so horrific, the first responders didn’t think anyone could have survived an accident of that magnitude. All the odds were stacked against him, and I was called to say goodbye while he was in a coma at the hospital.
Vince had severed his spinal cord, punctured his lung, and had broken his back, left leg, and all his ribs. He underwent extensive surgery at Vancouver General Hospital and died three separate times, but by a miracle he survived! He came out the other side a paraplegic and ended up having to stay at VGH for a long period of time. I was left alone to care for our kids at home in Kelowna so far away from my husband during his time of need.
It was such a terrible unknown period for our family and to top it off, I had been suffering from post partum depression before the accident even happened. I was suddenly a single mom with a six month and two year old, not knowing how or if my husband would recover. My family needed me more than ever, and I had to lead with resilience during a crucial period in our lives.
I started taking the kids to swim at the Kelowna Family Y at six am every morning. The caring staff noticed I had my hands full, and one of them reached out to offer support. She told me I really needed to drop-in to their free Family Play Time program so they could help.
It soon become our routine to come for a swim and then go play so we could bond, get some energy out, and I got a little bit of a break all in one visit. They engaged with my 6 month old son Nate, and my 2 year old daughter, Blair, and there were fun toys, activities, and gym equipment so we could play together. It was exactly what we needed, and I tear up when I think of how much the staff helped us out. The YMCA really lifted me up and it’s scary to think where I would be mentally and emotionally if we couldn’t have come here during that time.
While Vince was away at VGH for six months he missed Christmas, Nates first birthday, and so much more. We were ecstatic when he was finally able to come home, but we had to adapt very quickly. It takes a while to learn how to navigate life in a wheelchair, and we soon learned how inaccessible Kelowna really is.
Once home, Vince couldn’t work, continue with his active hobbies, and had lost his independence. He also suffered from PTSD caused by the accident, and it was difficult for him to adjust to staying home all the time. I witnessed my husband lose his will to go on.
I don’t think he would have left the house during that first period had it not been for the Y. We were so happy to learn how accessible the Kelowna Family Y is, and that Vince could easily join us in the pool and at Family Play Time. I still remember watching him in the pool with the kids the very first time after he came home from the hospital. It brought me so much joy, it just felt like we were a normal family again.
The fact that Vince could also go workout on his own meant a lot to him. There’s some specialized equipment in the upstairs gym that helped him work on his leg strength and movement. The water also provided immense therapeutic benefits, and before COVID he was doing physio with his trainer right in the pool. He is still in pain today, and the pool is the only place his body feels free.
Vince is incredibly resilient; it’s astounding how far he’s come physically. He has gained some strength and movement in his leg and we credit his progress to his workouts at the Y. He was progressing phenomenally before COVID, but since the shutdowns he’s regressed a little. This proves just how much his body needs the exercise.
A year and a half after the accident, he gained full independence and he now has the freedom to drive by himself. The Y was the first place he came alone with the kids as we knew the staff would be happy to help with anything he needed. It felt incredible for him to gain that independence and to provide me with a bit of a break. The Y really helped us adapt to our new lifestyle together.
Our family is beyond lucky to have experienced two miracles- the first is that Vince survived the accident at all, and the second is that he is now able to walk a bit! Spinal cords aren’t supposed to heal and his is severed. Numerous specialists and MRI’s confirmed he would never walk again but refuses to believe them. The specialist’s credit his walking to determination, pool exercises, and sheer miracle.
The kids also love the Y. Blair attends preschool here and we’ve made so many great family memories at this place, it’s our second home. I’ve also reached my personal fitness goals at the Y as well, loosing over 100 pounds. I like it so much I applied for a job with the Y and am now a supervisor in the Family Play Time program. This place just brings out the best in us!
If Vince’s accident wasn’t covered by WCB, I have no idea what we would have done. There are so many others who rely on the Y just as much as we do, but they need subsidy to access it. The Y wouldn’t be here without donations, everything that comes in helps real local people with real problems reach their goals.
It’s hard not to cry when I think of how much the Y has done for our family. This place helped my husband move forward with his recovery, and to move his legs against all odds. It’s provided an accessible place for us to play, connect, and adapt to our new normal together. But the biggest thing the Y has provided us, is a place to build resilience to move past difficult times.
Family Play Time is a free community program partially funded by donors. This program provides children and their caregivers a place to engage in meaningful play experiences. More importantly, it also offers connections with community services and supports, parenting education and training, individual support to access basic needs and referrals to enhanced services.