The Iron Will of a Trauma Survivor

Shelley is riding her bike and wearing a helmet.

Shelley Wickenheiser is the epitome of an athlete.

The resident of Elora regularly competes in Ironman triathlons, which are regarded as one of the most difficult races in the world. But on one sunny day in September 2018, Shelley’s future in sports was jeopardized when she was struck by a car while riding her bicycle.

“I drifted in and out of consciousness after I was hit,” says Shelley. “All I remember is a paramedic telling me to lay still.”

Trauma team in action

Shelley was initially rushed by ambulance to the local hospital in Guelph before being airlifted to the Trauma Centre at Hamilton General Hospital.

“I recall landing on the roof at Hamilton General Hospital,” she says. “There was a flurry of activity as the trauma team did a variety of tests and assessments.”

“I was nervous and a bit sad to leave Hamilton General Hospital. I had so much trust in the professionals from The General who cared for me during those 10 days.”

Shelley required casts for her broken arm and ankle, stitches for the cuts on her face and minimally invasive surgery for her fractured vertebrae.

“I was terrified when they said I had a broken spine,” she says, “but I was very grateful that I wasn’t paralyzed and that I didn’t have a head injury.”

Shelley in her hospital room

Shelley at Hamilton General Hospital

One of Shelley’s biggest motivators for recovering was being able to participate in physically challenging sports.

“I made it clear to my caregivers that my version of ‘normal’ isn’t just being able to walk again. I wanted to run, bike, swim and compete in long-distance triathlons. My doctors reassured me that I should be able to partake in these activities again with proper recovery and rehabilitation. That was what I needed to hear. They gave me the opportunity and I was prepared to do the work to get there.”

Road to recovery

Shelley was an inpatient in the trauma unit at The General for 10 days. During this time, she required physiotherapy to help her begin to walk again. She was then transferred to the hospital in Fergus for six days before being discharged home.

“I was nervous and a bit sad to leave Hamilton General Hospital. I had so much trust in the professionals from The General who cared for me during those 10 days.”

Shelley hugs her husband at the finish line. There is a crowd of people.

Shelley embraces her husband at the finish line

After nine months of physiotherapy and rehabilitation, Shelley competed in a half-Ironman triathlon in June 2019 and beat her previous recorded time. Nearly a year after her accident, Shelley participated in Strides For The General and was the year’s top individual fundraiser. In December 2019, she competed in a full-Ironman triathlon.

Giving back

“While I was in my hospital bed at The General, my physiotherapist Matthew McCaffrey once ran during his lunch break in my honour. He is the captain of the Trauma Troopers team and he invited me join his squad. I made it my mission to participate in Strides and give back to the team that gave me back the active life I enjoy so much.”

Shelley is extremely thankful for the compassionate, multidisciplinary team that cared for her.

“The trauma unit is one of the best in the world. The staff care about you as a person. They really go above and beyond, and there’s only so much they can do on government funding alone. That’s why it’s important that the community donates to The Foundation to enhance the care that the trauma team provides.”