By Nancy Alexander, PT
Just never give up.
That’s what Bonnie André from Victor NY would tell you. At aged 60 she experienced what she describes as her defining moment. It was a horrendous car accident that few could survive. She did survive and because she did, she lives with a passion to be active and healthy and encourages others to do the same.
Her accident was 12 years ago and she still remembers it well. It was in 2006 and she recalls she had a new grand-daughter. She was coming home from her hairdresser. She was driving up a hill and then lost consciousness. She drifted into the other lane where she crashed into another vehicle. “They say the combined effective speed was about 80 mph,” said Bonnie. She regained consciousness briefly after the collision when they were cutting the car apart to get her out. It had collapsed around her. She opened her eyes, and she saw her arms up in the air. Her right arm had an obvious open forearm fracture, with a lot of exposed bone. She remembers the ambulance taking her to the hospital. She had multiple fractures: both bones at her right forearm, every rib, and sternum. She also had a separation of the left clavicle at her sternum. In addition, she had a collapsed lung. The most serious injury was a transecting aorta (otherwise known as an aortic rupture), the result of the abrupt deceleration from speed to stop. Fortunately, it was slow to develop and was repaired with a stent. This was the first time a stent was used for an accident repair and was 100% successful. Bonnie is a walking miracle.
Bonnie said she drew strength from her family and friends. “I had some very dark times,” she said. Recovery was complicated by developing Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome (RSD) which is a complex and chronic regional pain syndrome that affects limbs after injury, surgery, a stroke or heart attack. She had to have injections to get through the pain of being stretched and ranged as part of her rehabilitation. There was emotional pain too. Bonnie learned the other driver survived and was grateful for that. “That haunted me,” she said.
“So many people give up – it’s easy to do,” Bonnie added. “The medical professionals who worked with me said I would never be able to rotate my right forearm again. I can. Their prognosis made me more determined.” Since her accident, Bonnie has had both her knees replaced due to arthritis. About 6 weeks prior to the accident, she had both big toes surgically fused as developing arthritis had made any movement there very painful.
“I didn’t give up then and I don’t want to give up now,” Bonnie said. “There’s so much living yet to do. Life is great as long as I can be active.”
Bonnie admits that she got very depressed during the long recovery and enforced inactivity. To go from being very active to sitting in a recliner 24/7 was incredibly depressing for her. “I got the idea that I had to let the bad feelings out from time to time or go crazy,” Bonnie said. “I started having what I called pity parties. I would look at the clock and say to myself: You’ve got 10 minutes, then you’re done. Scream, cry, do whatever you want, then go back to being positive and upbeat.” “Make sure you are alone when you do this,” Bonnie added with a half-smile. Bonnie wants to remind others that they are human. “You’re going to feel sorry for yourself. But you also need to set limits for this.”
More importantly, Bonnie focuses on what she can do. Among her many interests and activities, Bonnie loves to travel and just recently returned from a trip to Scotland with her sister. Bonnie has been active for years with equestrian events and is a “would-be” competitive dressage rider. She bikes and enjoys Yoga and Pilates classes. She is a certified level 2 alpine ski instructor and currently teaches skiing at Hunt Hollow Ski Club. She is also a senior level ski patroller. She ran a marathon at age 52 in Dublin, Ireland (which she said was one of the biggest challenges she has ever done).
I asked Bonnie what’s on her bucket list and her first response was, “It’s big.” She said she is continuing to train her 10-year-old horse, Laddie, on higher level dressage movements. Unfortunately, developing arthritis in her hips is making riding painful. “There will be hip replacement(s) in the future,” Bonnie added.
Bonnie’s face lit up when she said to me, “Oh, this is so exciting! I’m transferring a lot of what Laddie is trained to do under saddle to being driven.” She plans to do their first Combined Driving Event in September. The sport is relatively young on the world scene. It is a very technical and demanding sport with a lot of memorization involved. She said it is as much mental as physical and requires a real partnership between horse and driver. “I like that,” she said. She will be doing this with her husband of 48 years, Bob, who will serve as a navigator. Her passion runs deep.
Bonnie said her recovery from her accident lasted about one year and that the only limitation from it is that she can’t completely straighten her fourth finger on her right hand. That is remarkable by any standard. “If I had not been in that good a shape when it happened, I was told I may not have survived,” Bonnie said.
“One reason I survived this accident is to encourage others,” Bonnie added. “I believe that, I really do,” she said. “Never give up! Stay healthy and keep moving. Find challenges mentally and physically. Find challenges that are achievable and meaningful,” she added. “Face your struggles head on.”
Just never give up.
© 2018 Aging Well Now. All rights reserved.