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Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Originally from New Jersey, I'm the owner of Book Magic, a company that provides manuscript evaluations and copyediting. I'm also the author of three books. Contact me at sigridmac13 at hotmail dot com or visit

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Shelley Page calls me a fighter!

The fighter: Sigrid Macdonald battled the health-care system to become an outspoken advocate

The Ottawa Citizen Saturday, February 26, 2005, Page: I2 Section: Style Weekly .

Byline: Shelley Page. Column: Shelley Page. Source: The Ottawa Citizen

On her first car, Sigrid Macdonald had a bumper stick that read "Question Authority." That attitude would sustain her through multiple battles. In 1981, when she was 28, she was visiting her parents in New Jersey when she was hit by a drunk driver. She was nearly killed. She suffered a concussion, whiplash, a punctured and collapsed lung, several broken ribs, a broken hip, pelvis, wrist, arm knee and legs.

Her mind was injured, too. For years afterward, she suffered panic attacks and recurrent nightmares about car crashes. The flashbacks went on for many years.

Her rehabilitation was brutal. One day, while in hospital, she needed to use the bedpan but the nurses weren't responding to her call bell. She bent down to reach the pan and felt a pain ripping through her body. She had dislocated her hip. To repair her hip, her doctor drilled a hole through her knee in order to put her in something called K-wire traction. When the doctor drilled through her knee, he put 24 pounds at the bottom of the wire, and placed her in a position known as the Trendelenberg. She lay backwards in bed with her legs tilted toward the ceiling. She stayed in this position for five weeks.

When she was finally released from the hospital, she slowly progressed from crutches to cane. Afterward, she walked with a limp. For the rest of her life, she would be chronically sick and disabled. But she was still unstoppable.

After her release from hospital she learned that the man who hit her had a blood-alcohol level of .23 -- more than twice the legal limit. He had been traveling at 70 miles per hour in a 30 mile per hour zone. She also found out that he had been driving drunk since almost the day he got his licence, two decades earlier.

"My accident was not an accident after all," she realized. "The man was a reckless driver and a self-described alcoholic."

After the crash, his licence was suspended again, but he wasn't punished for hurting Macdonald. "He received the same sentence for hurting me that he would have received for running a red light."

As a member of Remove Intoxicated Drivers, she appeared on the U.S. television news program 20/20 and confronted both the driver and the owner of the bar where he had been drinking. The driver was "contrite, remorseful and apologetic." The bar owner was none of those things, even though the driver was one of the few customers drinking at the bar at the time and, at twice the legal limit, must have obviously been loaded.

Macdonald sued both men. She won -- $250,000 U.S. with a large chunk going to her lawyer. If it sounds like a lot, it wasn't. She can't work, so it's her life's income. Small consolation for a life of pain and disability. But it gives you an idea of the type of person she is. At the time of the accident, she was working on her Masters of Social Work at the University of Toronto. She wasn't able to finish. She moved to Ottawa, where she became an advocate for many causes.

For example, she was the head of the David Milgaard Support Group in the early '90s. A while ago, Macdonald passed me a copy of her first book, Getting Hip. Although it's a book about her experience receiving a total hip replacement before the age of 50, it's really a about perseverance and fighting for the best possible medical care. It's about questioning authority, and about walking through the pain.

Almost 20 years after Macdonald's near-fatal crash, her hip completely collapsed. Almost overnight she once again became an invalid. She'd spent her life fighting for justice, only to be reminded again, that sometimes there is no justice. Her experience would make her a health-care system activist. She quickly learned that one in 40 Canadians will have a hip or knee replacement in their lives. Already, 37,500 people a year get either their knee or hi replaced. The number is rising because of an aging population.

Macdonald had to wait 18 months for the operation in 2003. She was incapacitated during the wait and completely dependent on others, especially her mother who came to care for her. The waits are so long because of a shortage of orthopedic surgeons, as well as nurses, physiotherapists and even anesthesiologists. Orthopedic wards have been closed and surgeries cancelled because of budget cutbacks.

Macdonald started a website where she collected the stories of other hip surgery patients. Everywhere she looked, she saw problems with the system. Her book is not only about the process of having surgery and how to recover, it is also a book with a lot of wisdom. So many people who are felled by huge health problems are so overwhelmed, that a book would be too difficult to tackle. Macdonald's activism is on every page. She interviewed people from around the world about their hip replacements.

Even though her hip has now been replaced, she doesn't live without pain. She can't cross her legs, sit on a couch without pillows, or skate. Chronic health problems -- a legacy of the car crash -- continue to dog her. Her spirits aren't always as high as I might have made them out to be. Still, she can walk short distances, and that is a small miracle in itself.

"I'm 52 going on 150," she says.

Macdonald has become the darling of the geriatric set. She speaks to groups of seniors about "getting hip," and about healthcare. When I finished the book I was humbled by her tenacity.

Shelley Page's column appears every second week in Style.Illustration: * Colour Photo: (Sigrid Macdonald)> > Idnumber: 200502260070 > Edition: Final > Story Type: Column > Length: 953 words > Illustration Type: Colour Photo > > PRODUCTION FIELDS> BASNUM: 4318165 > NDATE: 20050226 > NUPDATE: 20050226 > DOB: 20050226 > POSITION: 1 ------------------------------------------------------------------------> > > > > Liisa Tuominen Ottawa Citizen Library> 1101 Baxter Road (613) 596-3744> Ottawa, Ontario (800) 267-6100 x3744 > Canada> K2C 3M4>

Copyright Ottawa Citizen 2005.


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