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Five years after the accident that changed everything

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the day Angela Shymanski's SUV went down a 12-metre embankment as she was driving back to Prince George from vacation in Calgary with her two children, Lexi, 5 and Peter, 10 weeks old.
Shymanski family
Travis and Angela Shymanski sits with their five-year-old son Peter and 10-year-old daughter Lexi.

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the day Angela Shymanski's SUV went down a 12-metre embankment as she was driving back to Prince George from vacation in Calgary with her two children, Lexi, 5 and Peter, 10 weeks old.

They were 15 km outside of Jasper when Shymanski's heart stopped due to an undetected heart condiiton she didn't know she had. For a long time the young mother thought she'd fallen asleep at the wheel.

At the bottom of the embankment, Shymanksi was left unconscious with a broken back, broken ribs and internal injuries while the sleeping Lexi woke to Peter's cries.

When Lexi couldn't wake her mother, she knew she had to take care of things herself.

Lexi got herself out of her five-point harness car seat and scrambled barefoot up the embankment to wave down passersby.

The family was taken by ambulance to Seton-Jasper Healthcare Centre. Angela and Lexi were then taken by air ambulance to the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton while Peter was taken by ground ambulance and arrived later that night because they thought he was fine.

It was later discovered Peter had experienced brain trauma that had to be treated with surgery to alleviate the pressure of swelling. Lexi came away from the accident with bruises and scratches.

During the past five years, the family has had a chance to heal from their significant wounds.

Lexi came away from the accident with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Shymanski has part of her spine fused to battle the excruciating chronic pain that is finally manageable. According to the neurologist, Peter's brain has found new pathways around the damage so he can function.

"Peter's healing was thanks to pediatricians and neurologists and the therapies that were available to us to give him the best chance of recovery," Shymanski said. "We are just so grateful that we have places like the Child Development Centre in Prince George that helped with Peter's recovery."

Lexi, now 10 years old, has an entrepreneurial spirit that sees her selling her felled-tree coasters, and other handmade items that her family has created. Lexi is very active and she's good at every sport she tries, Shymanski said.

"She took her Home Alone course and she took First Aid - she just has that kind of mind," Shymanski said. "There's something special about Lexi that she was able to do that heroic thing five years ago."

Lexi is showing early signs of being interested in medicine and has the take-charge personality that Shymanski believes is needed for that kind of career path.

"We're very excited to see what comes of it," Shymanski said.

It’s also been a long road back for Travis, Shymanski's husband, who has been on the healing journey with the family every step of the way.

During this whole time Travis, who wasn't in the car at the time of the accident, was trying to deal with the aftermath of caring for his five-year-old with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, his baby boy with a brain injury and a wife who couldn't walk for years.

"Every time he had a chance to get outside his escape was to create a treehouse," Shymanski said. "And now the treehouse is insane - it's got a king size bed and a fireplace and a winding staircase with ropes. It was his coping mechanism to work on it and it's so awesome because now me and the kids spend so many nights out there and it's incredible."

On another positive note, Shymanski did her first big drive with the children for the first time in five years, she added.

"We just drove out to the Ancient Forest and back," Shymanski said. "It doesn't seem like a big feat but it was to me."

With the COVID-recommended staycations close to home, Shymanski said she's determined to be able to do road trips throughout the summer.

A trip to Barkerville is in the works if the historic site opens during the summer, Shymanski said.

For now and in the future the Shymanski family has rewritten the accident as a positive.

There are good days.

"Now we celebrate the good things that came because of it," she said. "Every year we celebrate the day - it's our family's biggest holiday and we always bring a treat in for Lexi's class and she brings her medal."

Lexi was awarded the Medal of Bravery by the Governor General to recognize the action she took to save her family.

And there are bad days.

"Then of course there are days when we're really mad it even happened," Shymanski said. "There are days when Lexi is so disappointed that I have a broken back and there are things I can't really do like run and things like that but we always latch on to the positives. We can't just paint it as all rainbows but at the same time it's taught us that there's always bad that we can focus on but we just always try to make the best of it."

The family has created toy drives geared for the local pediatric unit at the hospital, they drop off coffee and donuts to first responders during drills in their neighbourhood and host lemonade stand fundraisers to donate to organizations that help children in need like the Child Development Centre.

"Five years later we're just so grateful to the community for their support," Angela said. "We've tried so hard to give back where we can."