3 Seconds That Changed My Life & The Lessons That Followed

Stephanie MacLeod Port

Stephanie MacLeod

My only regret is that it took me nearly dying to open my eyes and change my life. I don’t think we should have to go through something so traumatic just to realize the beauty around us. That’s why I wake up everyday with a drive to share my story. I believe I lived to show that there is so much happiness waiting for you, there is so much more good in the world than bad, and there is so much light after darkness… if you are willing to create it.

I’ll try to paint a picture of the severity of the situation at the time.  I was trapped in my car for over an hour while first responders worked diligently to extract me from my vehicle.  CP24 was on scene, as well as Air Ornge, who were kind enough to give me a lift to St. Michaels Hospital.  I underwent extensive surgeries, and my parents were told there was a chance I wouldn’t make it.

I fought to live on March 31, 2015.  I vowed to myself I would see my parents again and tell them I love them one more time.

At any given moment, you have the power to say, this is not how my story is going to end.

I can remember waking up in ICU like it was yesterday.  When I opened my eyes, I was in an unfamiliar place.  There were white walls, curtains, and beeping machines.  It was hard to swallow and I couldn’t speak.  I desperately searched for a familiar face so that I could get my bearings. There was overwhelming pain.  And then it all came back to me.

My life changed in 3 Mississippi’s.

The more cognizant I became, the more aware I was of the extent of my injuries.  I’ll save you from the gory details.  I had broken 15 bones including both femurs, and my right tibia and fibula.  I had multiple fractures to my spine, including my neck.  I had multiple rib fractures and my right lung had collapsed which is why I was intubated on a breathing machine.  I had broken bones in both arms and hands.  One break in particular caused severe damage, impacting the use of my dominant hand.  Three days after the accident, I experienced a stroke.

For the next few months, the focus was on my physical recovery.  I was a 25-year-old woman, trapped in the body of a two-year-old.  I could not feed myself.  I could not manage personal hygiene.  I wore a diaper.  I couldn’t even drink a glass of water to sustain myself.  Nor could I push a call button to ask for help.  I was completely reliant on others – family, friends, and, when visiting hours ended, total strangers.

I feel like with every kind of transformation, the focus is always on the big moment and it’s usually only when that big moment arrives that people commend you. When in reality, the hardest part is never the thing that people see, it’s never the thing that people assume, it’s all of the progress we make when nobody else is watching. For me, one of the biggest accomplishments was the day I brushed my teeth for the first time independently.

From this experience in itself I can give you two lessons.

Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.


It’s completely possible to be ridiculously happy, even when life is screaming at you not to be. 
Do one thing a day that brings you joy.

With input from my therapist, we concocted a device for strapping my cutlery and my toothbrush to my hand.  It was still not a pretty site but after many failed attempts, I got the toothbrush and albeit an empty spoon to my mouth.  Although you cannot control what life throws at you, you can control how to react to it. And you can even have a little laugh while doing it.

This is where my story gets interesting. When you break 15 bones, you submerge yourself in your physical rehabilitative recovery.  Every ounce of your energy goes to this because you need to be able to use your hands and you need to be able to learn to walk again in order to take back your independence.  I discovered that it is easier to sweep the emotional pain under the rug because I believed that, with time, this too would dissipate.

At the 3 year mark, it was time to go to court and face the man who hit me.  Soon after, I was diagnosed with severe PTSD.

PTSD can express itself in so many different forms.  For me, there is a suffocating ever-present fear that something horrible is about to happen and that life can change in 3 seconds and without warning.  This fear is fueled with the sounds of sirens which domino into crippling panic attacks that take my breath away.  My mind races and mental pictures develop where I re-live all or parts of the accident. I try to push the memories away in the busyness of my day.  However, I cannot escape them in my sleep.  My subconscious relives the sounds and burning smells from the Jaws of Life, the humming of Air Ornge and the moment frozen in time when I asked myself “Am I going to die in my car today?” Then, I would wake up screaming, lying on bedsheets soaked from sweat and tears, and when the night terrors are extremely intense, my own urine.

I knew I could not overcome my mental health challenges on my own.  So, I started to see a therapist.  I sat down for my first session and explained that I needed her to tell me what to do, I needed to get rid of and fix all these overwhelming emotions.  I lived, and I truly felt I only had the right to feel a single emotion: gratitude.  Every other emotion felt wrong.

She told me that the solution to overcoming these other feelings was to give myself permission to feel them.

You’ve got to feel to heal

To me, accepting sadness and feeling sorry for myself meant that I was quitting. I needed to pony up and get over it.  Big mistake.

Don’t be shy about asking for help.  It doesn’t mean you’re weak, it means you’re wise.

Therapy has been the best investment I’ve ever made in myself.  Through therapy, I’ve learned how to give myself permission to feel sad, angry, or anxious.  I let myself cry.  And then I remember that even though today was a hard day, I know I will be okay. I know that I have an amazing life. I know that everything passes and tomorrow has the potential to be the best day of my life. Yes, I could experience uncomfortable feelings today, but I know it’s only temporary and that is more than okay.

When I reflect back on the past 5 years, I am so incredibly proud of all that I’ve accomplished.  I had set goals along the way:  moving back into my new house, getting behind the wheel of a car and driving again, securing a permanent teaching position and stepping back into the classroom to teach children with Autism, graduating from physiotherapy to working out in the gym daily, and one of the most challenging goals, taking the stand, facing the man who almost killed me, looking him in the eyes, and reading my Victim Impact Statement.  The last one was empowering in that it gave me a voice.

As powerful as these goals were, I had one other important goal on my agenda and that was to walk into the firehall, albeit on a walker, and thank the first responders who saved my life that day.  On the 1-year anniversary of my accident, I was able to achieve this goal and that moment was hands down the most memorable part of my journey.

I had the opportunity to share my story through videos, photographs and discussion.  At the conclusion of my presentation, 53 first responders, many of which were at the scene on the day of my accident, stood in line to shake my hand and share their comments with me.  One fireman particularly stood out.  With tears in his eyes, he hugged me and said that in 30 years of being a firefighter, he never once had a victim come back and thank him for his service, especially one that he thought had not survived.  I was speechless.

We must find time to stop and thank the individuals who have made a difference in our lives.

One thing I’ve learned lately is that it is so easy to take things for granted. We get so caught up with what we don’t have and what we still want to achieve, that we forget to look back and see how far we’ve actually come. Even with all that I’ve been through, I am guilty of this.

My point is this. Five years ago, I thought I was ready to give up on myself and my own life.  And last summer, I swam in the ocean with dolphins swimming feet away from me. Life gets better, people really mean it when they say the best is yet to come. Make sure you stick around to see it.

Make sure you soak in the magic moments.

Never forget the days you hoped and dreamed for the things you have now. I know I will never forget how lucky I am again.

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