Keya Milaire got support from her best friend Hazel – and the “amazing staff” at Vancouver General Hospital after a horse fell on her and seriously damaged her spine. (Keya Milaire photo)

Back from a broken back, nurse repays support

Hometown Heroes Lottery helps hospitals provide health care to everyone in B.C.

Keya Milaire had support from plenty of friends and family during her seven weeks in hospital for a fractured spine.

And now the Langley nurse would like to repay some of that support by encouraging others to support the Hometown Heroes Lottery and the VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation.

It was a beautiful day last May when 28-year-old Milaire was horseback riding in Campbell Valley Park.

She was exercising a horse for a friend when the animal suddenly panicked, reared up, and fell backwards – on top of her.

The horse shot back up and took off, leaving Milaire alone and broken in the tall grass.

Her legs began to tingle and feel numb.

Luckily, she had her cellphone and was able to call 9-1-1.

“I knew right away that something was broken, so I did my best to stay stationary on my side,” said Milaire. “Because of the fractures, I was feeling numbness and tingling in my lower legs, so they sent a helicopter to come get me. But because of where I was laying in the tall grass, they couldn’t easily find me.”

It took 30 minutes of searching for Milaire’s help to get to her and then take her to Royal Columbian Hospital.

Due to the extent of the injuries to her spine, Milaire needed care and expertise only available at Vancouver General Hospital.

At VGH, Dr. Charles Fisher and the medical teams examined Milaire and found two broken ribs, two fractures in her lower spine, and fractures on both sides of her pelvis which caused it to detach from the spine.

To complicate matters further, she had also had spinal surgery near the same area on a similar injury nine years earlier.

This is when her direction of care came to a fork in the road. Fisher knew surgery would fix the damage faster, but a consequence of the procedure would take away her ability to bend at her lower back.

“To me, looking at a young person, to take that away for the rest of her life, would not have been in her best interest,” said Fisher.

Instead, Fisher recommended an unorthodox method of care in 2019: he wanted Milaire to remain under bed rest at VGH. It would allow the fractures to heal, her pain to be managed, and complications to be quickly addressed.

However, it could take several months.

Milaire was a lifelong athlete, always working out and playing sports. The idea of being confined to a bed was less than thrilling.

But, as a nurse herself, she agreed it was the best direction of care for her long-term health. And so she settled in for potentially months of bed rest at VGH.

“In my first week I was very nauseous,” said Milaire. “And I was told I would be on bed rest for three months – but I was determined to beat that.”

Milaire wasn’t allowed to move for the first two weeks, aside from slightly shifting every now and then. She coloured and slept a lot, and looked forward to daily visits from her Langley and Abbotsford friends and family, including best friend, her dog Hazel, who would always pick up her spirits.

Once Milaire could start moving and doing physiotherapy, she put all of her focus into her recovery.

“I started doing physio three to four times a day, and I made sure I pushed myself as far as I could every time,” she said.

Seven weeks and two days later – a week before her 29th birthday – Milaire was discharged, able-bodied and walking on her own.

Just a year later, Milaire is not only walking again, she is back to riding horses.

“It felt incredibly freeing to ride again,” said Milaire. “If you’ve never experienced not being able to move, or struggling to move, it’d be hard to relate, but just having that ability to move without effort was a beautiful thing to feel.”

Milaire’s recovery is ongoing as she attends physiotherapy one to three days a week, and massage therapy twice a week – and she goes to yoga and the gym as much as possible.

“I still have a long way to go before I’m back to 100 per cent, but because of the amazing staff at VGH I am going down the right path,” said Milaire. “To be able to walk again is a gift, and I’m forever grateful to all of those who helped me.”

Hometown Heroes Lottery

Hometown Heroes Lottery ticket purchases raise funds for specialized adult health services and research.

Funds drive innovation and sustainable health care at VGH, UBC Hospital, GF Strong Rehab Centre, Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, and Vancouver Community Health Services.

Funds also support Burn Fund programs, including the annual Burn Camp for young burn survivors.

Tickets can be purchased online at www.heroeslottery.com, by phone at 604-648-4376 or 1-866-597-4376, or in person at any London Drugs, Vancouver General Hospital.

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