In the blink of an eye, everything can change. It was a beautiful summer day on July 25th, 2022 when Stacey and Ken Jyrkkanen were making their way home from their annual Lake Louise camping trip. For over 25 years, Stacey and Ken set time aside with their family to visit this wondrous place as a chance to reconnect with nature, refresh, and reset. With just over an hour left in their drive, Stacey and Ken were discussing their plans for when they got home. Suddenly, they both looked up to see a vehicle flying through the air, headed straight for them. In that instant, both of their lives changed forever.
Before they could process what was happening, Stacey, Ken and their dog, Finn, were involved in a head on collision as a result of the oncoming driver losing control of their vehicle, hitting the center meridian and launching airborne. Ken and Finn were able to escape the vehicle but Stacey was left trapped in the truck, pinned from the waist down. She tried her best to remain calm but when she noticed flames, the fear of losing her life became a reality. Thankfully, a civilian who stopped to assist at the scene, used all of his efforts to get her out and miraculously succeeded.
When paramedics arrived, Stacey was taken by air ambulance to Royal Inland Hospital (RIH). Stacey had a broken femur resulting in an open fracture on her upper thigh and her feet were in even worse condition. Upon landing, Stacey was rushed down to the emergency department where she spent the night in the trauma bay, being transported back and forth from X-rays to CT scans.
The next morning, she was visited by Orthopedic Surgeon, Dr. Ross Outerbridge, who explained the extent of her injuries and conducted emergency surgery on her leg. Stacey learned that both of her heels had been crushed, and every bone in her right foot was broken. Dr. Outerbridge referred her to RIH’s foot and ankle reconstruction specialist, Dr. Derek Butterwick. Hopeful, Stacey explained her active lifestyle to him, reminiscing about the runs she had recently been on and the mountains she had just climbed and it was he who informed her that life as she knew it, would never be the same.
With much anticipation, Stacey’s reconstructive foot surgery was booked for August 3rd. As her porter Nadine Torchia wheeled her down to the operating room, Stacey recalls, “In that moment, I was unsure if my feet could be saved. Scared, emotional, and crying, I asked Nadine if I could hug her. Without hesitation, she parked the gurney and with nobody else around, gave me the most genuine hug. Her calm and reassuring nature will be something I will never forget.”
As Stacey lay in her hospital bed following surgery, she remembers thinking how the team at Royal Inland Hospital resemble a sophisticated ecosystem where everyone has something to contribute. From the housekeeping staff, to the surgeons, and everyone in between, there is not one job more important than another. She was blown away by everyone’s genuine commitment to serving others and expecting nothing back. She explains, “Often times, the care team was under a lot of pressure, but no matter what stressors they were experiencing, they left their burdens at the door and greeted each patient with the utmost compassion and empathy.” In return, Stacey always made a genuine effort to reciprocate that compassion by offering kindness, patience and understanding to everyone she encountered at RIH.
Stacey spent a total of 31 days at Royal Inland Hospital and during her stay, the staff became family, and neighbouring patients became friends. There were highs and there were lows, but in those moments of need, staff would rise to the occasion; often popping in for spontaneous visits, offering words of encouragement and sometimes leaving tasty treats.
As Stacey reflects on her experience at RIH, she will never forget the way so many people left a lasting impact in her life. She remembers John, the 92 year-old patient down the hall who loved to sing opera. In moments of calm, she would listen to his rhythmic notes float through the air like an angel touching everyone his song could reach. She remembers Nadine, the porter who watched over her when she was learning to maneuver in a wheelchair for the very first time. She is eternally grateful to Dr. Logan Nealis, the registered psychologist working with trauma services who helped her navigate the emotional peaks and valleys of her journey. As Stacey mourned the loss of her old life, he worked tirelessly to help her reach her recovery goals and shared tangible advice on how to navigate feelings of anger, fear and grief along the way. “When things got tough, Logan reignited my drive to keep moving forward. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him. He completely changed my mindset and as a result, I have had far more good days than bad.” Stacey will always remember the way her occupational therapist, Nathalie Wandler was there from the beginning, liaising with ICBC to ensure sure she had everything she needed to succeed in her recovery at home.
Stacey may have been the victim of a terrible accident but she is the victor in her own life. As Stacey greets each new day, she is overwhelmed with gratitude as she thinks back on the incredible network of people who brought her to where she is today. With each step forward, literally and figuratively, Stacey hopes her story will act as a beacon of hope for other people who may be going through a similar experience. Inspired by the exceptional care she received, Stacey would like to pay it forward by lending her time to other patients at Royal Inland Hospital. She plans to spread awareness about the invaluable Trauma Services Program at RIH and intends to shine a light on the need for more registered psychologists employed in acute care settings. Outside of the hospital, she would like to advocate for better wheelchair accessibility and transportation throughout the community. When Stacey sets her mind to something, there is no stopping her. This is seen by the way she has greeted every obstacle in her life thus far.
“I believe that everyone has a purpose in life. I survived that accident for a reason, and maybe that reason is to help other people.” – Stacey Jyrkkanen
Stacey would like to take this opportunity to thank every single staff member at RIH, who was a part of her recovery journey.
As it says in her card, “Without your care, empathy, support and compassion, the outcome of my journey would not have been as positive or as successful as it has been. Thank you doesn’t begin to cover how grateful I am for all of you.”
We hope you have enjoyed this heartfelt story. If you would like to support the invaluable services that helped to save Stacey’s life, consider making a donation to the RIH Foundation today.
May your heart be filled with warmth and happiness as you gather together with family and friends this holiday season. Thank you and stay safe.