Michelle Bloom's story is one of new beginnings.
Michelle and her family moved from North Delta to the Bradner area (just east of Langley) as a way of moving forward.
"For her to have stayed in North Delta was too painful for her_ too painful," her mom Diane said. "She'd be waiting for friends who would never show up."
Michelle's journey over the past eight years, one that took her from a hospital bed, to a wheelchair, to a walker, to using a cane for support, to walking with a slight limp and riding horses again, has changed the way she looks at the world around her.
"Now I'm a lot more compassionate," Michelle said. "I'm more concerned about people's feelings rather than how they look at me and how they may judge me."
At 19, Michelle had everything going for her.
She was a model, film extra, worked as an administrative assistant, and was a winning competitive horse rider, having started riding at the age of four, when her older sister bought her a pony.
Michelle had a busy social life and several friends.
"She was a party animal," Diane said.
All that changed the night of Aug. 11, 2004.
Michelle was a passenger in a vehicle returning from Golden Ears Park.
The car ended up rolling down an embankment. According to Diane, the seat belt Michelle was wearing was defective, and her daughter was thrown from the vehicle.
Michelle hit her head and body on a large boulder and her spleen exploded on impact.
An artery in her arm was severed in the accident.
Michelle wasn't breathing when she was found by a firefighter and his wife, a nurse, who witnessed the accident.
They opened up an airway and performed CPR, bringing her back to life.
"We never got to meet these wonderful people to thank them for what they did," Diane said.
Michelle was airlifted to Vancouver General Hospital where she underwent five hours of surgery.
Surgeons cleaned out the remnants of her spleen and performed microsurgery on her arm to repair the severed artery.
Michelle also suffered traumatic and life-changing brain injury.
"I was told they did not know if she would survive," Diane said. "They couldn't even give a 50/50 chance."
Michelle was put on life support and remained in a coma for three weeks.
"They told me the longer the coma, the worse the outcome would be," Diane said. "I didn't care - I just stayed positive for her sake."
Diane took a leave of absence from her job and stayed in a hotel across the street from the hospital. Every day, Diane read to her daughter, talked to her, sang to her, and prayed with her.
Diane described Michelle emerging out of her coma as "nothing like what's depicted on daytime soap operas."
Michelle remembers nothing from the accident: "All I knew was some friends and I were going to go and have a fun time in the sun on the water. Next thing I know, I wake up in a hospital bed."
This is when the real work began.
Michelle was back to square one; she had to learn how to breath on her own, swallow, and see properly.
She was paralyzed on her left side and it appeared doubtful she would ever walk again.
She even had to learn how to smile.
Michelle drooled constantly, couldn't hold her head up and "still had tubes inserted everywhere," Diane said.
She couldn't even tell the neurosurgeon her name.
"It was so bad; it was rough," Michelle said. "I had to learn how to do everything over again. It was like being an infant."
By early September, 2004, a doctor from GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre assessed Michelle and determined that she wasn't a candidate to go to the rehabilitation centre. She didn't think they could help Michelle.
Michelle was subsequently moved to the neuro ward at Vancouver General Hospital where she received extensive physiotherapy.
Eventually, her feeding tubes were removed because she was able to swallow on her own and eat food.
It was agreed that she could enter GF Strong in October.
Doctors couldn't believe the remarkable recovery Michelle was making, given her severe injuries.
In October, Michelle was transported to GF Strong.
There, with support from one particular nurse, Anita Houlihan, Michelle learned how to use a wheelchair and because of her intense physio, progressed rapidly.
"I was so determined to get up, but as soon as I stood up, I had no balance," Michelle recalled. "I used to have to climb things, and I'd usually fall down. My mom was always right there to catch me."
Houlihan was a friend and supporter during the early part of Michelle's recovery.
This was a time when Michelle was so angry with her plight, she wouldn't look at her own reflection in a mirror.
"She [Houlihan] was awesome; she was such a help to me. She helped me brush my hair, start to put makeup on again_," Michelle said.
"Michelle had such bad anger problems, and the only one she would let touch her was Anita," Diane added.
Michelle came home at the end of January, 2005.
She went to a home care facility during the day and Diane picked her up after she was finished work.
After three months of this routine, Diane left her job to become her daughter's primary caregiver.
Michelle continued to undergo intense rehabilitation for her speech, physio, and other aspects of her recovery.
All the while, Michelle's friends disappeared.
This person, using a wheelchair or walker, and who couldn't speak clearly, was not the same vibrant "party girl" they once knew.
"They didn't even come to visit her at home, although they promised her they would," Diane said.
When Michelle received her settlement from the accident, the family bought a five-acre property where she could bring her horses.
Michelle took over all the duties involved in caring for the horses.
"It was difficult but she was determined," Diane said. "I hired riding coaches to get her riding and still, her extensive rehabilitation continued."
Earlier, Michelle remembers her mom taking her to see her horses.
The sight of the animals didn't lift her spirits.
"I just kind of looked at them from the car and I thought 'I used to have fun riding that horse; now I can't even walk out of the car to go see him by myself,'" Michelle said.
Since then, Michelle has progressed, physically and emotionally, to the point where mom and daughter have gone back to GF Strong several times so Michelle could give talks to other brain-injured people, and answer their questions.
But there have been many trying moments.
Michelle continues to miss her friends, but after the family moved to Bradner, and especially since being a participant in the Aldergrove Million Dollar Neighbourhood (family), she has met local residents who Diane describes as "so many wonderful people who truly like her and care about her."
"You know what? I've met so many awesome friends, and they are truly friends," she said.
Today, Michelle walks with a slight limp and her speech still becomes a bit slurred when she grows tired.
"It is now eight years since that horrible accident and even the doctors say she is truly a miracle," her mom said.
And while she remains generally optimistic going forward, Michelle admits there are days when depression hovers over her.
"There are days when things just won't be looking up, at all," she said. "Yeah, I get pretty down in the dumps but I'm able to usually pull myself out of it within the day."
Recently Michelle was classified with Para Equestrian Canada and was accepted as a student of Sandra Verda-Zanatta of Fit To Ride.
"We just recently started working together and she's very determined," Verda-Zanatta said. "She's got a great attitude and big dreams. We're right at the very beginning of her program, so we're just feeling everything out and seeing what kind of training time she needs to work towards her goal."
Classified as a Grade III rider, Michelle loves her new coach and is focused on competing for Canada at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
"She is also determined to show people with disabilities that they can still accomplish their dreams," Diane said.
Michelle said riding has made a huge difference in her recovery - and her life.
"From the goal orientation to the progress, to balance issues, to helping my body to move better, I definitely would [advise] anybody with disabilities to try it out, at least," she said.
A former hunter/jumper, Michelle has changed her equine focus to dressage due to her injuries.
"She used to tell me she hated dressage because it's so boring," Diane said with a laugh.
Michelle quickly added, "But now, I find that it is the foundation to riding. Learning how to communicate with your horse in non-obvious ways, using your natural aids, not artificial like whips and crops and spurs."
Michelle is training on her sister's older paint stallion Pistol, a calm horse that's tailor-made for Michelle.
"The reason I've chosen to ride him is, he's been around the block a couple of times, and nothing really scares him," Michelle said. "I'm not at all in danger, and I can concentrate on myself, and he responds. So I'm learning myself."
Verda-Zanatta said she doesn't typically recommend stallions for riders of Michelle's classification, but added, "she's known him a long time and ridden him on and off, and he appears to be quite quiet and safe."
Before the accident, Michelle contemplated a career in modeling.
Now, it's all about her riding.
"If I get famous with my riding, I've got to work real hard!"
@ Copyright 2013