Nicki Galley and her partner Matt Duke were enjoying a motorcycle ride on a beautiful summer evening near their New Liskeard, Ont., home – until they collided with a bear on the road. While Matt was not badly hurt, Nicki flew into a steel guardrail then hit a road sign before landing.
“Once I realized I was still alive, I decided I was going to fight to stay alive,” she says. Airlifted to Toronto, Nicki underwent five surgeries. Her left foot was severed at the crash site, she had a broken right leg, ankle and knee, crushed hips, fractured ribs, a broken left arm and a perforated bowel.
While recovering in hospital, Nicki, a 45-year-old mother of two and a communications professional for a health unit, was offered several possible rehabilitation sites. She chose Sunnybrook’s St. John’s Rehab Program for its renowned amputee care.
A month after her crash, Nicki was an inpatient, working seven days a week with a St. John’s Rehab team that included occupational therapists, physiotherapists and a physiatrist (rehab physician). Not only could she no longer walk when she arrived, she was unable even to sit up on her own. But the team immediately started her on the path to recovery.
“They showed me the importance of setting goals, even one as simple as being able to put my hair in a ponytail by myself,” Nicki says. “They also celebrated all my goals with me as I achieved them.”
Nicki says social workers ensured she was doing well emotionally and a dietitian worked with her on achieving healthy weight gain.
“While everyone else remained focused on getting me back on my feet, the prosthetists put a leg and foot under me so I could finally stand,” she says. “Being able to stand after three months in a wheelchair gave me a thrill words still cannot describe.”
Where once prosthetic services at St. John’s Rehab were provided by a variety of community agencies, the Sunnybrook Centre for Independent Living (SCIL) now offers the full range of care, including manufacturing the artificial limbs. Prosthetists fit patients on-site then make any necessary adjustments at future visits.
Today, Nicki is an outpatient from Monday to Thursday, making the five-hour trip home to New Liskeard each weekend with Matt, who also received care at St. John’s Rehab for his shoulder injury. Nicki has progressed from wheelchair to walker to crutches to canes. Her next goal is to walk with a single cane.
But that’s not all. “Like the rest of the team, the prosthetists ask you, ‘What’s important to you?’” she says.
What’s important to Nicki is to dip back into her shoe collection and wear her favourite flip flops again. She is working with her prosthetist to order a new foot with hydraulic ankle, increasing her range of movement and flexibility so she can do just that.
“Nicki could fill a room with shoes,” Matt laughs.
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