Sheila was snowmobiling near Williams Lake when the accident happened.
It was a beautiful day in January 2022 and she was out with her family and friends. They had just started to head back to their trucks when, without warning, Sheila fell into a trench that had been hidden by snowfall. Before she could climb back out, another rider fell into the trench—and his snowmobile smashed down onto her.
“At first the group didn’t know where I was, “says Sheila. “I was buried under two feet of snow below the snowmobile, and only my feet were visible. Apparently, when they got to me, my head was lying on my chest at an impossible angle. My jaw was torn and dislocated and I wasn’t breathing. My cousin thought I was dead.”
Sheila’s loved ones acted quickly—removing her helmet, doing CPR, and soon she was breathing again. But she had suffered multiple injuries, including a ruptured liver and spleen, a fractured rib, a torn rotator cuff and bicep, and a deep gash along her right jaw. Worst of all was the fact that the nerves, tendons, and nearly all the ligaments connecting her skull to her vertebral column were severed—an injury that is almost always fatal.
After twice being airlifted to different regional hospitals, Sheila was then airlifted to Vancouver General Hospital (VGH), where she was placed under the care of renowned spinal surgeon, Dr. Charles Fisher.
“This is a very serious injury that is often fatal at the scene,” says Dr. Fisher. “It’s the area of the spinal cord where it joins with the brainstem and so the respiratory centre and lots of important structures compatible with life are there.”
Being the only hospital in BC able to perform complex spinal surgery, VGH is the provincial referral centre for all acute spinal injuries. Over several hours, Dr. Fisher and his specialist team carefully performed the surgery that would repair this traumatic, life-threatening injury.
“For any complex injuries like this, the patients need to come to a specialized center, which we’re the only one,” says Dr. Fisher. “To treat these injuries, it’s not just the surgeon. You need to have a great team—and that’s what VGH provides.”
That team includes our donors, who help make this incredible level of care possible for British Columbians—when they need it most urgently.
“My friends and family feared the worst,” Sheila says. Very few people survive the kind of injury I sustained. Yet, Dr. Fisher and his team did such an amazing job that—just two weeks later—I was discharged from VGH.”
For Sheila, it has been a long, slow road to recovery since that horrible day in 2022. At first, all she could do was rest. But then, she gradually added physio, then strength building, then gym work—until she started to believe that one day she would be able to snowmobile again.
“That became my goal,” she says. “I wanted to get back out in the mountains and ride again—with my cousin, the one who rescued me, and who has become like a brother. And in March, just over a year since the accident, I made my first solo ride!”
“My cousin thought he’d lost me that day. But Dr Fisher saved my life.”
Honour your angel
Each holiday season, VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation asks our community to ‘Honour Your Angel’ by making a donation in honour of a loved one or health care provider. These gifts help to transform health care at VGH, UBC Hospital and GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre, and to save lives like Sheila’s.
Donor support purchases critical equipment, funds high-impact research projects, and advances patient care to deliver B.C.’s best and most specialized adult health care.