When Casey Delaney was struck by an out-of-control personal watercraft two years ago, her life came to a sudden stop. Having sustained a severe traumatic brain injury, doctors weren’t sure if she’d be able to walk, talk or return to her passion for teaching, ever again. But thanks to specialized rehab therapy at The Ottawa Hospital’s Rehabilitation Centre, Casey was given the opportunity to get her life back on course.

The accident that changed everything

On Canada Day in 2018, Casey and her friends were sitting on an inflatable raft near the Gatineau River shoreline when the driver of a nearby personal watercraft lost control, hitting Casey and leaving her immediately unconscious.

Casey in hospital bed at The Ottawa Hospital
Casey in the hospital.

Her boyfriend at the time, Scott, performed CPR until the paramedics arrived and Casey was rushed to a local hospital. However, her injuries were extensive and complex, so she was quickly transferred to our Trauma Centre at the Civic Campus for lifesaving treatment.

To reduce swelling in her brain, doctors carefully removed the left half of Casey’s skull – which was later replaced with titanium mesh – and put her in a medically-induced coma. Casey was diagnosed with a severe traumatic brain injury and her medically induced coma was extended for two weeks. Her doctors weren’t sure if she’d ever be able to walk, use her arms, or remember her loved ones. But when Casey woke up, there was hope.

“I had issues with walking at first, but I was getting up as soon as I could, and that’s pretty lucky,” says Casey, who was just 26 at the time. Lucky as she was, Casey wasn’t left completely unscathed. She had newfound weaknesses on the right side of her body and issues with memory and balance that required special care.

But our experts were ready to help Casey work through these challenges and give her the chance to return to life as she knew it.

A long road ahead

In August 2018, Casey was transferred to our specialized brain injury rehabilitation program, one of only a handful like it in Ontario, that treats patients from all over eastern Ontario and as far as Nunavut. It was there that Casey participated in two months of intensive therapy, followed by what was expected to be years of outpatient rehab.

Those who survive a traumatic brain injury are often faced with life-long side effects – both physical and cognitive, that can prevent them from living independently or participating in social activities, and can cause changes in personality and behaviour. Rehabilitation can help a person regain function in these areas, and our specialists work with patients for the duration of what can be a long road to recovery.

Casey in room at The Ottawa Hospital
Casey recovering in hospital.

“If you break your leg, you might expect recovery to take about three months. Brain injury is probably one to two years of ongoing recovery,” explains Dr. Shawn Marshall, physiatrist and division head of physical medicine and rehabilitation, who worked closely with Casey throughout her care. “Because Casey had a severe traumatic brain injury, her prognosis for return to full-time work was less than 50 percent.”

Casey, a passionate kindergarten teacher, wasn’t going to let this prognosis hold her back from getting back to life, and the classroom, as soon as she could.

“I was like, ‘They’re wrong. I’m going back to teaching in September,’ which to be clear, I was not back in September,” says Casey. But, she was ready to give it her all.

Setting the stage for recovery

For patients like Casey, their care in the Trauma Centre sets the stage for their journey to recovery. Ongoing research happening right here at our hospital can help inform and improve this care.

At the time of her admission, Dr. Shane English, an ICU physician and researcher at The Ottawa Hospital, was recruiting participants for an international research trial that was investigating how to manage low blood levels in patients with a brain injury – and Casey was the perfect candidate.

“This study was brought here to truly provide the best care possible to our patients.”

– Dr. Shane English
Casey at The Ottawa Hospital
Casey with her father during recovery.

Typically, blood transfusions are only given to trauma patients with very low red blood cell levels (anemia). However, those with brain injuries are more susceptible to low hemoglobin levels and researchers were examining whether transfusions should be given more liberally to prevent significant anemia and how this might lead to improved outcomes.

“Our job is to preserve everything we can to give them the best chances of a recovery later,” says Dr. English. “We’ve been really active in brain injury and trauma research and this study was brought here to truly provide the best care possible to our patients.”

Getting back on her feet

Throughout her rehabilitation, Casey was fortunate not only to have access to the latest cutting-edge treatments, but also to be cared for by an extensive and collaborative care team of experts, including nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, psychologists, social workers, speech-language pathologists, and physiatrists.

“The most effective therapies are the ones that are meaningful to you, that engage you, and that are practical to you. Rehabilitation is about getting your life back.”

– Dr. Shawn Marshall

These experts, many of whom are involved in establishing the guidelines and best practices for traumatic brain injury care and management in Ontario, helped Casey through daily, three to five-hour intensive therapy sessions. Because no two brain injuries are alike, Casey’s care team developed a highly customized rehabilitation program that focused on improving areas where her injury caused difficulties so she could regain function and return home.

In some of her therapy sessions, Casey was taken into specialized rooms that mimicked areas of a home, like a bathroom and kitchen, to learn strategies to overcome her injury. Looking back, Casey remembers being surprised by some of the therapy sessions she participated in, which included activities like cooking and woodworking.

“Dr. Marshall was amazing and always had the next step ready to go. That’s what my brain needed.”

– Casey Delaney

“I had fine motor type classes, which seemed silly to me at the time. I teach my kindergarten students fine motor skills, but looking back, that was something I struggled with,” says Casey with a laugh. “I remember being so proud that I was able to bring home a meal I’d cooked and present it to Scott, which I hadn’t done in ages.”

While activities like cooking may seem simple, our experts say they are complex tasks for the brain and played an integral role in Casey’s rehabilitation. “When you do therapy, the most effective therapies are the ones that are meaningful to you, that engage you, and that are practical to you,” explains Dr. Marshall. “Rehabilitation is about getting your life back.”

An exceptional recovery

After only two months of therapy, Casey had made great progress in her rehabilitation and was ready to take the next step – going home. “By September I was out of the hospital and at home. That was huge,” says Casey. There was even more reason to celebrate when Scott, who had been by Casey’s side throughout her recovery, proposed.

Casey in backyard with her fiance
Casey with her fiancé, Scott.

Casey continued with daily therapy at our hospital, which became less frequent as she improved. Amazingly, by the following September, Casey was back to work full-time, doing the things she loves and no longer needed therapy.

In addition to support from her family, Casey credits her care team for giving her the tools and care she needed to bounce back, beat her prognosis, and have the opportunity for a healthy future. “Dr. Marshall was amazing and always had the next step ready to go,” says Casey. “That’s what my brain needed.”

For our experts, her recovery was nothing short of exceptional.

“The take-home of her case is how you can be drifting on a river and one second later your life is turned over and affected for the rest of your life. Casey’s story is one of someone who’s really worked hard,” says Dr. Marshall. “She progressed to getting back to the things she loves, to her family, and impressively, back to teaching on a full-time basis, which is pretty remarkable.”


The Ottawa Hospital is a leading academic health, research, and learning hospital proudly affiliated with the University of Ottawa.

It was a routine patrol in Kandahar that altered the course of Bushra Saeed-Khan’s life forever. In one brief instant, the detonation of an improvised explosive device (IED) changed everything. She went from a Federal employee on an assignment in Afghanistan, to an amputee trauma survivor grappling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The complexity of Bushra’s traumatic injuries brought her to The Ottawa Hospital where a dedicated team of experts were ready to help her get back home.

Facing a war zone

Bushra was just eight weeks into a year-long tour in Afghanistan when she received permission to accompany troops “outside of the wire” – beyond the protection and confines of a military base. When their mission was complete, they headed back. It was then the light armoured vehicle (LAV) Bushra was travelling in ran over an IED buried underground.

Bushra in Kandahar
Bushra (left), in Kandahar, prior to departing the base on the day of the attack.

She recalls hearing a loud bang, one unlike anything she’s ever heard, before being momentarily knocked out. When she came to, there was silence. Confusion and shock paralyzed her entire body. But it didn’t matter; she was pinned down inside the vehicle, unable to move. Fear filled her every thought. Was she the only survivor? Could the vehicle go up in flames while she was stuck inside it? Was there anyone around to save her? Each racing thought was as anxiety-inducing as the other, while in a war-torn country, miles away from base, from safety, her family, and her home.

Four soldiers and one civilian, who had become Bushra’s friend, died that day, on December 30, 2009. Bushra, one of just five survivors, is lucky to be alive. But she didn’t walk away unscathed. To this day, she continues to feel the ripple effects of the incident more than a decade later.

Seeking medical attention

After witnessing the explosion, troops in the second LAV acted quickly, requesting back up to assist the survivors. As they came to Bushra’s aid, it was clear her injuries were severe. Her entire body was affected by the blast. The force of the explosion was so fierce it left Bushra’s abdomen exposed, and her legs critically wounded – a portion of one completely gone.

Bushra in Germany
Bushra waking in Germany.

Bushra was airlifted by helicopter to a military base for emergency medical care before she was transported to a hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, where she was placed in a medically induced coma. As doctors worked to stabilize her for the long flight to the Trauma Centre at The Ottawa Hospital’s Civic Campus, Bushra was introduced to the name Dr. Nancy Dudek, Medical Director of the Amputee Program. Bushra needed to start to think about recovery and Dr. Dudek would soon become Bushra’s primary caregiver for over a decade. “I didn’t realize at the time just how much of an impact Dr. Dudek would have on my life.”

Road to healing and recovery

Once Bushra was in our care, experts began working around the clock to repair the extensive damage that had been done by the IED. “I remember the first time I met Bushra,” says Dr. Dudek. “She had just arrived at the hospital and had a lot of injuries. The most critical question I had for her at that time was regarding her leg.” Bushra’s leg was severely damaged, and it was clear they would have to amputate it. Since her femur bone was also fractured, they needed to decide if her orthopedic surgeon would perform a full amputation of the leg or fix her femur and save as much of her leg as possible. “It’s really important, when possible, to include the person who will be receiving the amputation in that decision,” says Dr. Dudek. “We want our patients to have a say in what’s going to happen to their body.” In the end, as a team, they decided to fix Bushra’s fractured femur and perform a through-knee amputation.

This was the first of several surgeries Bushra underwent at our hospital. “Within the first week of being in the trauma unit I had what felt like over 20 surgeries,” says Bushra. “That’s when I stopped trying to keep track.”

The women of the Rehab Centre

Once Bushra was medically well enough to leave the trauma unit, she was moved to the Rehabilitation Centre. This is where she would remain for over a year as an inpatient, followed by six months as an outpatient. Under the care of some of the best physiotherapists and prosthetists in the field, Bushra had to relearn how to perform the most basic tasks, such as lifting her arms, moving her head and sitting upright in bed, before eventually learning how to walk with a prosthetic leg. “I call them ‘the women of the Rehab Centre,’” says Bushra. “They’re just so brilliant in their respective fields, but also so kind and caring. It was really nice to see.”

Bushra at the Rehab Centre, learning to stand.
Bushra learning to stand again.

At the time, Bushra was still in great discomfort, not just from her surgeries but from flashbacks of the incident, her survivor’s guilt, and the thought of living the rest of her life with a disability. Working through those emotions felt like mountains she had to climb and conquer, and some days they were too much to bear. “At one point, I even contemplated suicide. Some days I couldn’t even get out of bed. Not just because of the physical reasons, but mentally I couldn’t deal with everything I had to fight through that day,” says Bushra. It wasn’t long before she was introduced to Dr. Josie Marino, a now-retired psychologist at our hospital. Dr. Marino was instrumental in Bushra’s care, helping her overcome those mental obstacles. “PTSD never really goes away, it comes back when times get rough, but Josie gave me the tools that I needed to cope,” Bushra explains.

“I like giving patients the confidence that they can do more than they think,”
– Marie Andrée.

On those more difficult days, Bushra’s physiotherapist, Marie Andrée Paquin, would adapt and cater the exercises to the pain she was experiencing. If Bushra didn’t feel well enough to leave her room, Marie Andrée would have her perform exercises in bed. On the days she was feeling stronger, she would push her a little bit further. “I like giving patients the confidence that they can do more than they think,” says Marie Andrée.

She even went as far as having Bushra perform exercises that mimicked dance moves so that she could dance at her sister’s wedding. “It was really nice that they were so flexible in my care, tailoring it to exactly what I needed,” says Bushra.

Discovering hope

Bushra, prosthetic leg
Bushra’s prosthesis.

After Bushra’s amputation, she couldn’t help but worry about the future. After all, she had never met someone with a prosthetic leg. “My family and I were very worried about what type of life I would have,” says Bushra. Realizing this, Dr. Dudek asked a former patient of hers to visit with Bushra. “I remember so clearly, this woman walking into my trauma unit room. It was shocking for me to see her walking around and playing with her kids,” says Bushra. “I am thankful that Dr. Dudek introduced me to this woman. That was a pivotal moment for me.” After that meeting, Bushra no longer worried. Rather, she was filled with hope.

This gave Bushra the confidence she needed to try a prosthetic leg. She met with Laura Scholtes, a prosthetist at our hospital, who fitted her with a new artificial limb. It wasn’t long before she got the hang of it and once she did, she was introduced to the Computer-Assisted Rehabilitation Environment (CAREN) System.

The CAREN System

Bushra hasn’t been the only patient who has experienced injury in Afghanistan. In realizing the need, the Canadian Armed Forces and our community raised funds to bring this virtual reality system to Ottawa — one of only two cities in Canada who have it. The CAREN System has been instrumental for patients in the Rehab Centre.

Bushra Saeed on the Computer-Assisted Rehabilitation Environment
Bushra on the CAREN System.

“The CAREN System was amazing,” says Bushra, when asked about her experience with this unique virtual reality rehabilitation equipment. It combines incredibly large 3D graphics and a platform that moves with the person as they explore a virtual 3D world on a remote-controlled treadmill. “It’s very safe and a great way to challenge a patient’s balance,” explains Marie Andrée.

“The CAREN System was really a catalyst in my recovery as I was able to learn how to walk with a prosthesis and push myself in an environment that I knew was safe,” says Bushra. “And it trains you to walk on all kinds of surfaces. There was even a setting for paddle boarding. It was really a lot of fun.” Training in the CAREN System boosted her confidence. Today she’s riding her bicycle, and excelling in her career as a diplomat, something she didn’t expect she would be able to do.

New life after trauma

Bushra with her baby
Bushra holding her daughter.

One of the very first questions on Bushra’s mind after her surgery to reconstruct her abdomen was whether or not she would be able to have a baby. The injuries were so extensive that surgeons had to insert a mesh lining to help rebuild the abdominal wall. At the time, her physicians were unsure if her body would be able to adapt to carry a child to full term. Eight years later, Bushra announced she was pregnant, and much like she adapted to a new normal with a disability, her body was able to adapt to a growing baby.

“They are my guardian angels. My heroes. They saved my life.” – Bushra Saeed-Khan

As Bushra’s belly grew, so did her challenges with her prosthesis. Laura was able to monitor Bushra throughout the duration of her pregnancy to ensure that her prosthesis fit her limb comfortably. But in the last two months of her pregnancy, Bushra was no longer able to walk with ease and temporarily switched to a wheelchair. As she was prepped to undergo a c-section, Dr. Dudek worked alongside Bushra’s obstetrician, Dr. Laura M. Gaudet, to ensure that Bushra had the most accessible birthing room possible, one with a doorframe wide enough to fit her wheelchair, and a bed that could be lowered so that she could more easily get in and out.

The day after Bushra gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Dr. Dudek was there to meet her. “After my initial surgery, my doctors weren’t sure if I would be able to have children. And then eight years later there was Dr. Dudek holding my baby,” says Bushra. “So, it was a special moment. It really felt like everything was coming full circle.”

Today, Bushra is able to play with her two-year-old daughter, just like the patient she met in hospital with the prosthetic leg early on in her recovery. Those feelings of hope have become reality.

More than a decade later

More than a decade after the incident, it would be easy to look at Bushra and be impressed by how far she’s come. But she accepts each compliment about her recovery with humility, because she knows she didn’t do it alone – she was backed by some of the best healthcare workers in the country. “I’m a product of my circumstances and I was fortunate to have the support structure offered by the Rehab Centre at The Ottawa Hospital,” says Bushra. “It felt like a team effort and it’s thanks to my caregivers that I was able to gain independence. They are my guardian angels. My heroes. They saved my life.”

Download Pulse Podcast today and listen to Bushra’s story.

Long-distance cyclist Fran Cosper described himself as being in the best shape of his life as he headed into the winter of 2017. However, in mid-February he woke up in the middle of the night unable to feel his legs. The next morning, when Fran tried getting out of bed, he slammed onto the floor – his strong legs suddenly useless. Soon after, he was diagnosed with Guillain Barré Syndrome (GBS) – facing the possibility of permanent paralysis. Little did he know the road ahead would involve a team of experts, the help of 3D virtual reality at The Ottawa Hospital, and a determination not only to walk again, but also to help other patients.

When Fran first experienced those sudden symptoms, he initially thought it couldn’t be anything serious as he was very health conscious. He attempted to make his way to the basement that morning to work out. “I went to get on my hands and knees, and fell face-first on the carpet. I thought, ‘Well, I can’t move. This is much more serious.’ My wife, Elise, came down and saw that I had facial paralysis, and thought I’d had a stroke.”

But Fran knew that strokes typically affect only one side of the body and that something else — something serious — was happening.

What is Guillain Barré Syndrome?

Fran is secured to an adjustable bed prior to using the CAREN machine at the Ottawa Hospital Rehab Centre.
Fran in hospital.

After a thorough assessment, Fran was diagnosed with GBS. This rare autoimmune disorder causes the immune system to attack the nerves, damaging the myelin sheath, which is the nerves’ protective covering. As a result, the brain can’t transmit signals to the nerves in the muscles, causing weakness, numbness or, as in Fran’s case, paralysis.

An infection or virus can bring on GBS. The 56-year-old had had two colds back-to-back, which may have thrown his immune system into overdrive. Within days, his balance was off, and he had difficulty lifting pots to cook dinner. Hours later, the disease was full blown, attacking his nervous system and Fran couldn’t move.

“It was like having an out-of-body experience. I mean my brain was working fine but my body wasn’t doing what I asked it to do.”
– Fran Cosper

“We see patients with Guillain Barré Syndrome at The Ottawa Hospital Rehabilitation Centre probably five or six times a year,” says Dr. Vidya Sreenivasan, a doctor of physical medicine and rehabilitation. Some have mild cases, but others, like Fran’s, are more serious.

A more challenging road to recovery

About one in 100,000 Canadians contracts GBS every year. Recovery can take more than a year because the nerves re-grow slowly, one millimetre per month. For Fran, the journey would be much longer.

The disease continued its nerve damage following his admission to the hospital. After two weeks, he transferred to the Rehab Centre, where his care team included doctors, psychologists, social workers, recreation therapists, physiotherapists, respirologists, occupational therapists, and nurses.

“I decided at that point, I was going to fight it. I was going to fight back and do the best I could to get better even though I didn’t know what the outcome was going to be.”
– Fran Cosper

Fran was completely dependent on this team for all of his care. He needed to be washed, dressed, and turned in bed. He couldn’t even close his eyes. The nurses had to tape his eyelids shut so he could sleep.

“It was like having an out-of-body experience. I mean my brain was working fine but my body wasn’t doing what I asked it to do,” says Fran. He also faced excruciating pain because of the damage done to his nerves. As Fran lay there unable to move in his hospital bed, he made a decision.

“Oddly, I wasn’t afraid. I decided at that point, I was going to fight it. I was going to fight back and do the best I could to get better even though I didn’t know what the outcome was going to be.”

Rehab team ready with state-of-the art technology

Fran’s excellent fitness level, as well as his determination and positive attitude, helped him through when it came to the rigorous therapy plan. He had physiotherapy five hours a day, including three times a week in the Rehab Centre pool. Within two months, he could stand and take steps with help. He learned to walk again thanks in part to our Virtual Reality lab – one of only two in Canada.

Fran in pool.
Fran would visit the Rehab Centre pool three times a week.

“The pool and this 3D room were invaluable. It would have taken me a lot longer to get my legs back if I didn’t have access to those tools.” – Fran Cosper

The CAREN (Computer-Assisted Rehabilitation Environment) system combines room-sized 3D graphics, a platform that moves with the patient in a harness, as they explore the 3D world, a dual-tread remote-controlled treadmill, and world-class motion analysis technology. Preprogrammed visual presentations allow the patient to respond to an environmental stimulus by shifting weight, increasing or decreasing speed and even making specific motions. Difficulty levels can be increased gradually as the patient progresses further in their rehabilitation treatment plans.

Fran in VR lab.
Fran learning to walk again thanks in part to our Virtual Reality lab – one of only two in Canada.

“This room is right out of sci-fi. It really challenges your body. After an hour of doing exercises, I was just sweating. The pool and this 3D room were invaluable. It would have taken me a lot longer to get my legs back if I didn’t have access to those tools.”

“I’d basically been swiped off the planet for a year. But the only negative thing about being in the hospital was the disease itself.” – Fran Cosper

For Dr. Nancy Dudek, Medical Director, Amputee Program at The Ottawa Hospital Rehabilitation Centre, this unique system offers many benefits to patients. “There’s no end to things you can do with that sort of creativity. To be able to be hooked up to a harness without the support of the parallel bars still gives you the safety aspect. It’s a very innovative and beneficial system.”

Installed in 2010 in partnership with the Canadian Forces and with support from the community, the CAREN system was initially used in part to help injured soldiers returning from Afghanistan. Since then, many patients have benefitted, including those who have had a traumatic brain injury, stroke, neuromuscular disease, amputation, or chronic pain.

Continuing the road to recovery

Released from the Rehab Centre in October 2017, tears were shed by Fran and nurses who cared for him. It was those nurses who helped Fran with day-to-day care, teaching him how to wash and dress himself and be independent again.

Fran on exercise ball
Fran receiving care from the rehab team.

“I can honestly say that the kindness and level of care I got really humbled me. The nurses and staff have just been marvellous,” says Fran. “I’d basically been swiped off the planet for a year. But the only negative thing about being in the hospital was the disease itself.”

He walked out of the Rehab Centre using a walker. When he returned a month later for a follow-up appointment, he walked in on his own.

Today, Fran is back riding his bike – not quite to the 100-kilometer distances, yet, but his therapy continues. He still deals with pain, and his arms were slower to recover. His fine motor skills in his fingers are taking longer to get back to normal. As a saxophone player, he’s motivated to get his fingers working again.

“I’m kind of at the point now where I’m thinking I may be able to play again someday. I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to play my sax because my fine dexterity is improving – it’s a work in progress.”

Giving back as a volunteer

Fran will never forget two volunteers in particular who were there for him when he was being cared for at the Rehab Centre. Chris and Claude would come and take Fran for coffee and to talk. Initially, he had no idea who these blue-vested people were, but Fran quickly learned the important role they play at the hospital.

“I remember asking Chris why he was a volunteer. Chris explained to me that he had an inoperable brain tumour, and he was going to die. He told me, ‘I figured the hospital took such good care of me that I would spend the rest of my time volunteering.’ I broke into tears and decided right there I had to become a volunteer,” says Fran.

Fran in blue vest.
Today, Fran gives back as a volunteer at our hospital.

Pre-COVID, Fran would spend two days a week meeting patients, sometimes visiting his old room at the Rehab Centre, inspiring them about what is possible. “I remember seeing a woman in a hallway; she was on a gurney and going in for surgery – she was by herself. I stopped, leaned over, and told her it was going to be ok. Afterwards, I saw her again and she said, ‘Thank you.’”

That’s why Fran proudly wears the blue vest. He’s experienced the dark days and today, he’s happy to be able to help others when they need a reassuring voice to help them through – just like Chris and Claude helped him. He’s also grateful to be able to volunteer his time at the hospital that cared for him during his long journey to recovery.

Listen to Fran Cosper in his own words during a guest appearance on Pulse: The Ottawa Hospital Foundation Podcast.

For an update on Marcie’s story, click here to see how far Marcie has come.

It was a bitter cold, winter day on Friday, January 11, 2019. Marcie Stevens was making her way home to Kanata for the weekend from downtown. The Public Safety employee sat on the second level of a double-decker OC Transpo bus when it crashed into the overhang of the Westboro transit station. It was 3:50 p.m.

Ten minutes away from where the crash occurred, the trauma team at The Ottawa Hospital was alerted, and a Code Orange was called. The Emergency Department began clearing space, and a large number of staff converged including surgeons, nurses, anesthetists, emergency physicians, and support staff. A massive team of about 150 people would await the injured passengers. At 4:28 p.m., the first patient arrived at The Ottawa Hospital’s Civic Campus, home to the only level 1 trauma centre in eastern Ontario. In total, 13 severely injured patients over a two-hour period were rushed to the trauma centre – one of the injured was Marcie Stevens.

Calm amidst chaos

The married mother of two recalls being conscious and considerably calm throughout the entire ordeal. Though she was pinned on the top level of the bus and critically injured, she was able to call her husband, Christopher, to tell him she couldn’t pick up their children. She even thought to call work to let them know she wouldn’t be in on Monday and was able to help to calm those around her while emergency crews worked furiously to remove them from the wreckage. Marcie would need that calm composure in the midst of adversity for what awaited her.

“I couldn’t have gotten this far without the incredible people and support from The Ottawa Hospital – from the trauma team to the ICU to the Rehab Centre – it’s incredible. Compassionate is the best word to describe it.” – Marcie Stevens

The trauma team was ready

After arriving at our Emergency Department, Marcie recalls she had lost so much blood and that after her CT scan her blood pressure began to plummet, but the trauma team was ready. “The nurse in the Emergency Department had the O negative blood in her pocket. They immediately started pumping blood back into my system. My blood pressure stabilized, and I was then rolled into the operating room. The only time I passed out was when they put the mask on to put me to sleep.”

Four physicians in an emergency room at The Ottawa Hospital

(From left to right) Dr. Ian Grant, Dr. Peter Glen, Dr. Maher Matar and Dr. Jacinthe Lampron.

Marcie would wake up on Sunday morning, groggy and swollen. That’s when she learned from her husband that both of her legs had been amputated. “I knew going into the operation that my left leg was gone, because they told me. But they were going to try to save the right leg, but they couldn’t, and on Saturday they had to take it.”

While a completely new world awaited Marcie, her positive attitude never wavered. “You adapt and that’s what I have been doing. This is the way it goes. I couldn’t have gotten this far without the incredible people and support from The Ottawa Hospital – from the trauma team to the ICU to the rehab centre – it’s incredible. Compassionate is the best word to describe it.”

Waking up to a different life

Soon after the bus crash, Dr. Nancy Dudek, Medical Director, Amputee Program at The Ottawa Hospital Rehabilitation Centre, met Marcie at her bedside for the first time. “I had regular visits with Marcie when she was in the trauma unit to determine when she would be medically ready to come to the Rehab Centre.” Our Rehabilitation Centre specializes in the physical rehabilitation of those who have experienced a disabling physical illness or injury. It serves the residents of eastern Ontario.

Dr. Dudek is quick to point out though that Marcie’s rehab started soon after she was admitted to the hospital. “We started rehabilitation plans when she was still in the Trauma Unit. She was a very avid participant of early rehab.”

Marcie Stevens and her family.

Marcie’s road to a new way of living life began with her multi-disciplinary care team helping to get her wounds healed. That would lead to teaching her how to move independently once again.

By the end of February, Marcie moved to The Ottawa Hospital’s Rehabilitation Centre. She says the staff were incredible from the moment she arrived. “I was in a room with three other women. They put the two who fell asleep early on one side and me and an older patient – the night owls – on the other.”

It was during rehabilitation that Marcie learned how to transfer from the bed to her wheelchair without a lift. She learned how to cook in a kitchen that is not accessible, to prepare for her return home, and she’s learning how to drive with hand controls.

Preparing to go home

Dr. Dudek explains there’s a great deal to cover in rehab. “We teach wheelchair skills, including what the right wheelchair is for the patient. We also had to work on strengthening, including core strengthening. Then, we talked about what would be the immediate needs to get her home to her family, including her five and 12-year-old boys.”

Marcie Stevens and Dr. Dudek
Westboro bus crash double amputee, Marcie Stevens, doing strength testing in the rehabilitation centre at The Ottawa Hospital with Dr. Nancy Dudek.

Marcie went home on Friday, April 12, 2019. Three months after arriving at the hospital. When Marcie reflects on her feelings as she was leaving the rehab centre, she takes a moment and then replies, “It was a giddy day. It’s not like I didn’t like the Rehab Centre,” she quickly qualifies her response smiling at Dr. Dudek, “but it was good to be home with the kids.”

Of course, going home didn’t mean Marcie’s rehabilitation was over, but it was a major advancement in her recovery – a recovery that she faced head on with a resilience that never wavered. Dr. Dudek says it’s been inspiring to watch Marcie over the last year. “She is an incredibly positive person. That has been consistent. It’s something that was there right from our first meeting and it hasn’t really faded. She has a ton of energy and other people really gravitate towards her. She’s very popular around here.”

“Rehab is great. It is the jewel of the hospital that nobody knows about. They are sort of hidden away here. They have to deal with so many types of injuries and states of mind. Not everyone at the centre is accepting of what happened to them,” admits Marcie.

As Marcie recounts all that she’s been through in the past year, she still jokes and laughs. When Dr. Dudek is asked if she thinks this incredible attitude helped with Marcie’s recovery, the answer comes fast. “One hundred percent. She has made significant changes and implemented new things to her life. It’s very impressive to see. We can show people the way, but we can’t do it for them.”

Moving forward

Today, Marcie and her family are moving forward. A new home is necessary – one that is fully accessible, and Marcie talks about getting back to work someday.

She misses her colleagues, but she knows that day will come with time. “I’m a very positive person and it will take time to get used to the changes in my life, to adjust to having no legs. It’s difficult. I’ll get there.”

For now, she will continue with her regular rehab. Eventually she will only need annual visits. For now, her weeks are filled with trips to the gym and the pool, all to get her stronger for the new world she faces. Despite the challenges, she embraces it all with confidence, a smile, and you could say a bit of attitude as she wheels away wearing her black leather jacket, sunglasses, and a streak of pink in her hair.

Update: Two years later

Marcie Stevens' prostheses
Marcie Stevens with her prostheses.

Today, Marcie is learning to walk again thanks to her new prosthetics. While the pandemic has caused some delays in her progress, she’s hopeful the spring will bring more good news. “I am looking at procedures to help me move easier in my prosthesis after significant weight loss,” says Marcie. She’s lost 60 pounds in an effort to better adapt to using her prosthetic legs.

In the springtime, Marcie is optimistic that she will have a chance to trial powered knees, which will allow her to move better when she sits down and stands up. She’ll also have her adapted vehicle, to help her shuttle her boys around town. In two years, Marcie has come a long way. While her recovery continues, our rehab team is with her as she takes each new step forward.

Life can change in an instant. Thankfully, Ashley Ruelland lived to tell the story of her ‘instant’ after a head-on car crash brought her to The Ottawa Hospital’s Trauma Centre with extensive, life-threatening injuries followed by months of intensive rehab.

In early March 2015, then 27-year-old Ashley was living in an apartment with her two cats. She was busy working as a construction manager, part time as an office administrator, and she had started a catering business. She had never really been sick, and had no idea where the Civic Campus of The Ottawa Hospital was located.

That changed on Friday, March 13. Ashley was driving the bride-to-be and another friend to a bachelorette party in Mont Tremblant. It was a clear day and the three were brimming with excitement.

A head-on crash

About an hour from their destination, on highway 323, a car crossed over the centre line, head on into their lane. That was Ashley’s instant. The noise from the impact was horrific, with the earth-shattering sound of grinding metal and fragmenting glass.

Ashley Ruelland lying in hospital bed
Ashley, her mother Cheryl Ruelland-Jackson, Therapeutic Paws of Canada therapy cat Pecan, and her brother Robbie Ruelland.

Miraculously, one of the first people on the scene was a resident from The Ottawa Hospital. She quickly assessed how serious Ashley’s injuries were. It took first responders over an hour to extricate Ashley from the car. She was rushed to the Hull Hospital, but because of the severity of her injuries, she was transferred to the region’s only trauma centre at The Ottawa Hospital Civic Campus.

While her friends had relatively minor injuries, Ashley had a grocery list of broken bones: from her right big toe to her ribs and just about everything in between. Most significant were an open compound femur fracture, an open left elbow fracture, right humerus fracture, crushed and broken left and right foot and ankle fractures, an open book pelvis fracture, and multiple broken lumbar vertebrae.

“This lady’s life changed forever that day,” said Dr. Guy Hébert, Head of the Department of Emergency Medicine, when he looked at the hundreds of files related to Ashley’s surgeries and treatment.

She remained in an induced coma in the intensive care unit for two months. She endured numerous reconstructive surgeries, 100 hours of orthopaedic and internal surgery, and over 100 blood transfusions and infections.

Beginning the long road to recovery

Ashley walking in parrallel bars
A year and a half after her “instant”, Ashley was able to walk again with the help of a walker.

Four months after the crash, Ashley began physiotherapy in her hospital bed and could finally eat solid food.

She had lost all of her hair and had severe nerve damage, chronic illness myopathy and neuropathy.

“I was scared to think of the life that was waiting for me outside those hospital walls.” — Ashley Ruelland

“I couldn’t feed myself, brush my own teeth or move much at all. The first couple of weeks seemed like torture. The nurses would set little goals, like sitting up in my wheelchair for 20 minutes a day. The physiotherapist and occupational therapist didn’t know if I’d ever walk again. I was scared to think of the life that was waiting for me outside those hospital walls,” said Ashley.

But then her first real sign of recovery came a few weeks later when she was able to feed herself.

Intensive rehabilitation

In August, Ashley moved to the rehabilitation centre at the General Campus where she began an intensive regime of physical, occupational and psychological therapy programs. Just before Christmas, nine months after the accident, Ashley left the hospital. Although she was in a wheelchair and hadn’t made many functional gains, Ashley felt stronger and healthier.

The young woman continued as an outpatient with rehab, and had her last surgery in February 2016, which allowed her to transfer from her bed to chair, independently.

“In May 2016, I stood independently for the first time,” she said. “And after many more weeks of painful standing and walking in the hospital’s therapy pool, I started to walk with the aid of a harness within the parallel bars. By the end of the summer, I was able to move with a walker.”

Over two years later, Ashley is walking again. In fact, not only is she walking but she’s travelling, recently returning from Ireland. She’s also in school and looking to buy a home.