Community & Current Events

How she survived a near-fatal accident

By: Ann Douglas

Photography by Roth & Ramberg Author: Canadian Living Credits: Photography by Roth & Ramberg

Community & Current Events

How she survived a near-fatal accident

By: Ann Douglas

Survivor: Michelle Salt, Calgary

On June 27, 2011, Michelle Salt was involved in a serious motorcycle accident. Passing a car on a turn, she lost control of her bike, slid into the guardrail, flew through the air and bounced off the guardrail. By the time she landed, she had sustained a series of life-threatening injuries: a smashed pelvis, 13 broken bones (including both hips, two vertebrae and her clavicle), a bruised spleen and a severed femoral artery (the artery that runs through the thigh). She was bleeding so heavily that the prognosis was grim. To increase her odds of survival, she was put into a coma at Calgary's Foothills Medical Centre and her right leg was amputated eight inches above the knee. During the seven days she spent on life-support, she had four major surgeries. Afterward, she underwent months of rehabilitation.

Surrounded by support
Her recovery was spurred by gratitude – for the three strangers who laid on the ground with her at the accident site, offering comfort and reassurance, and for the family and friends who stood by while she was on life-support – and a fierce determination to become fit and active once again (prior to her accident, Michelle had participated in fitness competitions).

Michelle credits her family for fuelling her will to recover before she was even capable of breathing on her own. "They would sit with me in the hospital for hours, and tell me that I was strong and that I would do big things with my life."

Olympic dreams
They were right on both counts. She was strong. Doctors told her that having a healthy heart helped her to survive the near-fatal crash. And she had a big goal in mind. Before she even left the trauma unit, she had set her sights on snowboarding in national competitions, a dream that grew to becoming a snowboarder at the Paralympics. (The event will debut at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.) "At first, I think people just thought it was the medicine talking," she says.

But it didn't take those closest to her long to realize just how serious she was – or to figure out what they could do to support her. A state-of-the-art computerized sports knee, designed for people with above-knee amputations, cost $78,000 – $28,000 more than what was covered by Michelle's insurance. Family and friends helped raise the balance by holding silent auctions in Calgary and her hometown of Leduc, Alta.

The para-snowboard team won't be chosen until February 2014, but Michelle is already training full time (five days on the snow and four days at the gym) on top of holding down two jobs. She's now the top female athlete in Canada, and she even went back to motorcycling.

And as for her winning attitude? "Life doesn't stop after you lose a limb," she says. "Your body is just a vessel. Your mind is where a champion is made."

Check out more inspiring stories of women who rebuilt their lives in the wake of disaster.                      
                   
This story was originally titled "I Will Survive" in the September 2013 issue.
           
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How she survived a near-fatal accident

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