A special Christmas message came from a hospital bed in Vancouver up to a worried family in Prince George.
"Kacie phoned us Christmas Day with a wonderful gift," said Linda Smith. "David said 'Merry Christmas' to us. It was a struggle for him to say it, but he said the words and it was wonderful."
David, 28, was recovering in Vancouver General Hospital from a horrific highway crash on Nov. 13 near Quesnel.
His fiancee Kacie Halonen was by his side on Christmas day to dial the numbers to his mom Linda, father Orville and sister Crystal all back here in his home town.
The crash caused Smith to suffer a stroke on top of all the physical trauma from the collision. His brain swelled, so doctors had to remove part of his skull to allow for expansion, then replace it when the swelling subsided. They had to cut his throat for a tracheotomy tube to aid his breathing. He was in an induced coma for many days. The stroke caused the loss of most mobility on his left side. The recovery road will be long and bumpy.
"He will have a lot of rehabilitation and a lot of learning life skills to manage whatever can't be fully recovered," said Orville. "It is much too early to tell the full extent of his injuries or the amount of recovery. The doctors tell us he has a lot of things in his favour. He is a young, strong, athletic guy. He has a great attitude. He hasn't lost his humour. The doctors have a lot of optimism, but we also have to be honest with ourselves about the realities of what he's been through. So far, he's showing a lot of fight and his personality is coming through as well, so those are positive signs."
Smith is famous for that sense of humour. He has done stand-up comedy and feels comfortable doing public speaking. He was a popular employee at Kal Tire and recently at CN Rail where he
is now a conductor. He is a popular lacrosse and football player, was a history student at UNBC, and a young leader in the Beaverly community where his family runs a farm.
It is the Beaverly Volunteer Fire Department Hall where a pancake breakfast will be held on Sunday to raise money for the Smith family. The trips to Vancouver are costly and stressful and although the Smiths have not asked for community help, their neighbours are nonetheless rallying around them.
"They are pillars in our community, have been for years, and if you ever need help they are the ones who drop what they're doing and come to you," said Brenda Colebrook, one of the organizers of the breakfast event. "You can't replace people like that, you have to help those people just because they've been the ones helping everyone else. It's an honour to be part of something to help this family."
The breakfast happens from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., admission by donation, and items are being collected for a silent auction which will accompany the pancakes. Colebrook said making contact with potential donors has been difficult through the holiday season, and many companies and individuals just went through a blitz of charitable causes.
"People don't choose their times of crisis. This is their time," Colebrook said. "In the spirit of giving and miracles, let's help them now. A lot of community people have put forth many items and we're looking for more. I know the community is going to be very supportive. You hope for cash, and people to come out to buy at the auction."
Halonen is a CNC student in the laboratory technician program. Her practicum is underway at the hospital in Kamloops, allowing her closer proximity to Smith but also requiring her dedicated attention to duties. She and the Smiths try to alternate visitations so Smith can be in fairly constant company.
Smith had the tracheotomy tube removed from his throat on Wednesday, allowing for the next step in the healing journey. His throat can now heal so solid food can be eaten. Once that happens - a few weeks is the estimation - and his core strength improves, he can be transferred to GF Strong Hospital in Vancouver, specializing in physical trauma rehabilitation. It is presently thought that his GF Strong period will be eight to 10 weeks, but this is only a vague estimate.
"He is already coming leaps and bounds," said Linda. "He is strong, he is mentally tough, he wants to marry Kacie and have a family, so he is motivated."
Mom and dad will be returning to Vancouver sometime next week, they hope, and will stay about a week if they can. Future trips to Smith's bedside will depend on resources and finances. All are invited to contribute via the silent auction and pancake breakfast this weekend. For information call Colebrook at 250-964-0240.