Driving home to Prince George from a vacation to the Calgary area on June 8, Angela Shymanski had a lullaby CD playing that helped to provide a soothing atmosphere for her two napping children, Lexi, 5, and Peter, 10 weeks old.
Unfortunately, the lullaby also worked on Angela. As she felt her eyes close once, she gave herself a talking to and because of the steep drop off along the road she knew it wasn't safe to pull over. So she promised herself she would stop in Jasper for a break so she could continue home safely.
Angela nodded off despite her best efforts. Her SUV traveled down a 12-metre embankment about 15 kilometres outside of Jasper, coming to rest with the front wheels up against a tree and its back wheels up in the air. Angela was knocked unconscious by the impact and suffered a broken back and extensive internal injuries. Her daughter Lexi woke to her baby brother Peter's cries.
When Lexi realized her mother couldn't wake up, she knew she had to get help.
Lexi undid her car seat's five-point harness - a feat she had only accomplished twice before - jumped to the ground and scrambled up the steep embankment barefoot to flag down a passersby. The first people to stop were a mom and dad with a boy, said Lexi, who was born on the same day as Peter, March 31, five years earlier.
"The dad went down to get Peter," she said. The next person to stop was a man who later was identified as a paramedic who knew not to move the still unconscious Angela.
"He stayed with me until I regained consciousness and I could see Lexi lying down next to the highway and that someone else had the baby," said Angela.
Because the "good stranger" - as Lexi called him - didn't have a piece of paper, he committed Travis' number to memory so he could call him. He called again a few days later to check up on them.
"It took him five tries before he could get cell service to call 911," said Angela.
Paramedics could only reach the car by using ropes to navigate the steep terrain that Lexi had climbed up barefoot.
"It's just so crazy that she did that," said her grateful mom.
The family was taken by ambulance to Seton-Jasper Healthcare Centre, and then Angela and Lexi were air ambulanced 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 determined that Peter had a small bleed on his brain and then another more significant bleed was discovered by a neurologist in Edmonton. While he was under observation they discovered swelling which had to relieved, and Peter was rushed into surgery to have subdural drains put in his head to relieve the pressure. He was kept in the hospital for six days. Doctors advised Travis and Angela to be sure Peter was reaching developmental milestones. So far, he is doing very well.
As a result of the accident, Lexi had a little scratch on her chin and was really sore for about a week because of soft tissue injury in her neck and the pain continues to linger.
"Once Lexi was home and started doing her gymnastics and after her swimming lessons she was saying her neck was sore," said Angela. It will take time for her to heal and not just from her physical injuries.
"For Lexi it's more emotional trauma," said Angela, looking down at her hands clasped in her lap. "She's had nightmares but I'm hoping when things settle down those will disappear. I carry major guilt over this whole thing."
Angela was told she needed to be resuscitated twice between the crash location and her arrival at the hospital in Edmonton.
"I was in pretty rough shape when I got to the hospital," said Angela. "I had small fractures in my neck and upper back, and then I had broken ribs and internal injuries. The spleen had to be taken out and my liver was really badly damaged but they took all my organs out to check for rips and tears and the very next day they were going to do back surgery on me but a girl who was in a motorcycle accident, whose entire back was broken, was given surgery instead."
It was a good decision because Angela's blood levels were low because of the internal bleeding. She has been able to regain some strength and heal but she still goes for consultations with surgeons on a regular basis to see how her back is healing. Her L1 and L4 vertebrae were broken and Angela was told if the break was even a centimetre higher she would have ended up a paraplegic.
Angela is still using a wheelchair to get around and has a hospital bed in her living room. Just this week she was given the go ahead to use a walker but her left leg has suffered nerve damage and she doesn't seem to have full control of it.
"When I stand, my leg doesn't always get the message to walk," said Angela.
"So when I use the walker, I've had days where it's impressive and then other times I walk with my right leg and I drag my left leg behind," said Angela. "And that's even more frustrating because I think I'm making progress and then I'm not."
After 44 days (Angela keeps count), she was allowed to hold Peter unassisted. She was able to nurse him throughout those early days but she couldn't move him from one side to the other or hold him on her shoulder.
"Now I can hold him but he's 14 pounds and because I couldn't build up to it, I find he's really heavy," said Angela, whose abdomen is still healing from the massive surgery she endured to repair her organs.
Doctors told Angela it would take about a year for her organs to go back to normal and she talked to people who have had a similar back injury and they told her even a year and a half later they still experience chronic pain, something she endures every day.
Right now their home is a very busy place with people coming and going often as family and friends gather to provide support, meals and take on cleaning duty to help make things easier for the injured family.
"Everything has been quite chaotic," said Angela. "Even now I sometimes wonder if this is a dream - is this real? And this is nothing compared to what some people go through. In the same trauma room that I was in people were waking up to find out people in the car with them had died or they're waking up and they don't have a leg, you know? It was crazy in that room. It was terrifying. So we're really lucky in that way. We're all alive."
Angela is a swim instructor and runs a bed and breakfast out of the home and of course, because of the accident, she's not able to continue with either right now, while Travis is on leave from work to care for the family.
"Thank goodness we have Travis," said Angela. "We need to do whatever we can to help him so he can keep going because caring for all of us keeps him very busy. We're all just in survival mode right now."
A gofundme account was set up for the family at www.gofundme.com/yrkpa9s and as she went to look at who was donating, Angela said she only recognized about a quarter the people contributing. She finds it unbelievable that strangers would donate to her family.
STARS air ambulance, Give A Mile - a non-profit organization where people donate air miles so people can visit loved ones who are either ill or injured - and Hope Air, which provides air transportation for those in need of medical treatment outside their community, have all been very helpful.
"I'd like to thank everyone," said Angela.
"It's been just amazing how people have helped us."