How pilates helped her connect with her body after a terrible accident
This is a story about hope, determination, strength, mixed in with a tiny bit of miracle. When I first met Justine she seemed like any other 20-something year old looking to learn and live and gain experience.She was bright and present and confident. But I would soon discover that she was anything but a regular 26 year old.
LIFE BEFORE THE ACCIDENT
Let’s begin this story a little earlier to Justine as a healthy, athletic 16 year old.
Like many teens, Justine was sporty and loved gym class. Her favourite sports and activities included volleyball, water-skiing and snowboarding, flag football and cheerleading. Growing up with two brothers, you had to be tough, and she considered herself a bit of a tomboy. Not only was Justine a natural athlete, she was also very good in math, very ambitious, organized and responsible. You could sometimes find her organizing her brother’s finances and helping them with their homework! She even talked about going to business school in university. This girl was on her way up!
On weekends she often went to the family cottage to practice her favourite water and winter sports and relax with family. She wasn’t one to party it up and get silly drunk at bars every weekend (most of her friends already had fake IDs so even though the legal drinking age is 18 in Quebec a lot were getting in younger than that). She much preferred just chilling with friends and having parties in the comfort of her home.
However on July 10th, 2010 she decided to use a fake ID for the first time to go to a bar with her good friends. Once in the bar they all started dancing and partying and having a good time. Justine however maintained a certain level of control and didn’t drink much. They met up with other friends and eventually started thinking about heading home to one of the girls’ place for a sleepover.
They were going to take a taxi, they had the money for it, but an acquaintance offered them a ride. They didn’t know this guy very well, he was a friend of a friend, but they thought, hey if it’s gonna save us a few bucks why not!
She was 16 and what she didn’t know was she was about to get the greatest lesson of her life.
The boy driving the car, who was 18 at the time, was a bit of a show-off and tried to impress the girls by driving really fast. As she says this I have flashes of when I was 16 and boys were often acting macho in front of girls trying to impress us by driving recklessly to seem cool.
Justine sat in the back seat behind the passenger seat, her long-time childhood friend Evelyne sat in the passenger seat and their other friend Claudia behind the driver.
Suddenly, the speed became too fast to handle and the car smashed into a tree on the front driver’s side. The car was totaled.
On July 10, 2010 life would change forever for Justine and her friends.
One girl suffered a head trauma, another suffered injuries to her ankle, femur, lumbar spine and hip and the driver…well he got only minor injuries. Justine however was crushed in the abdomen by the seat belt which caused excruciating pain in her stomach. She remembers thinking: ‘’The car is going to explode! I gotta get away, far away and now!’’
She ran out and was in such extreme shock she didn’t even realize that her ankle was broken, her right clavicle and left elbow were fractured, her sacrum was fractured, and her intestines had just been severely crushed and injured.
She was just beyond scared. ‘’I just wanted to call my mom’’, she remembers. Her stomach hurt so badly that she even started hallucinating and having odd visions.
THE SCARY REALITY
She was taken by ambulance to the hospital where she lost pulse twice on the way and was in and out of consciousness. The worse injury of all was her crushed intestines which eventually turned into necrosis of the small bowel and colon. At first, she was in a real coma for a few days but then she was plunged into an artificial coma in order to perform the daily operations and to allow her body to heal. I always tell my clients (and my kids) that sleep is one of the best healing medicines!
They kept her open for 10 days because for some unknown reason she kept having continuous hemorrhage and small portions of her intestines kept dying which is why they had to keep cutting the dead part of the intestines with daily operations. She got to the point where she only had 30cm of her small intestine left and ¾ of her large intestine!
On the average healthy human the small intestine is about 6 meters long and the large intestine is 1.5 meters long!
By now, Justine was missing quite a bit and it was getting crucial!
While in hospital, the doctors started to worry that Justine wasn’t mentally there. So one day, while in her artificial coma they asked her a question and she had to squeeze someone’s hand to respond. By some miracle she did!
Afterwards, she had to be fed intravenously because the food she was ingesting wasn’t giving her enough nutrients, she got jaundice and eventually had to be transferred to another hospital that specialized in intravenous nutrition.
She got an ostomy bag which is a prosthetic device to collect waste. Stool drains from the stoma into a bag attached to the abdomen and it is often put after bowel surgery or injury.
She stayed in hospital for about 7 months. She had to do lots of physio and learn how to change her ostomy bag and hook herself up to a catheter to feed herself all night intravenously. She was fed this way for 5 years!
IN NEED OF A TRANSPLANT
Time was not on her side and she desperately needed a bowel transplant. Her veins often got infections from the catheters and she was slowly running out of veins to prick her catheter in. She even had to use her jugular at one point!
She was put on the top priority for a bowel transplant. And in 2015 she finally got the news she’d been longing to hear! She had the transplant in 2015 and was finally able to get rid of the catheters and the ostomy bag!
But her struggles were not over. She was left with an abdominal hernia due to her abdomen staying stretched open for 10 days straight. And to add to everything she’d already been through, post operation she developed cancer! This cancer was specifically linked to and caused by the operation – they call it a post transplant lymphoma disease and it’s linked to the EBV (Epstein-Barr Virus).
She had to do 3 months of chemo, lost her hair, got chemo injections in her spinal cord and from 2015-2018 was continuously on her period. She was forced into an early temporary menopause. And she also rejected the bowel transplant twice. Holy geez! That is a lot to handle!
JUSTINE’S WILLPOWER AND INNER STRENGTH
But throughout all of this trauma and set-backs Justine remained strong and courageous. She even went on a 3-week trip to Europe in 2014 with her friend Evelyne and her other friend ‘’Mr.Ostomy bag’’ – besides the essentials like clothes and toiletries, she was also carrying 2 ice coolers for her food bags and one hockey bag with all of her equipment (bandages, catheters, tubing, etc).
They sometimes had to walk up 3 flights of stairs with all this baggage!! It wasn’t easy but together they managed and had the trip of a lifetime!
She was determined this wouldn’t stop her from enjoying life and living it to the fullest!
ENTER PILATES !
Justine, having been very physically active and driven learned the hard way that you only have one body so you better take care of it. Her father’s wife happened to have a pilates reformer in their home and kept telling Justine that she should try it.
And so in 2012 her passion for pilates emerged! She started slowly, working privately with a STOTT PILATES© instructor (Genevieve Bolla-Studio Set) and gently built up her strength and mobility.
She worked on the mat and Reformer to improve mobility and strength in her right ankle as well as for back pain and pelvic pain.
STOTT PILATES© is so versatile and known throughout the pilates community as one of the top approaches for rehab and recovering from pain and injury.
You can adapt it to pretty much anyone. I love the precision of this method and how you can follow your client’s pace and needs.
With regular pilates 2-3 times per week, massage, physio and osteopathy Justine was able to get stronger and more mobile. She found that pilates offered her a deeper connection than just regular gym work. She developed her deep core muscles, she connected with her breath, she felt taller, stronger in her legs and appreciated the progression of each exercise.
Today she pushes herself and is able to do group classes and many of the more complicated exercises while always listening to her body.
She loves that pilates offers her a moment to be in the present.
She learned the beauty of being present when people came to visit her in hospital. She felt as though she spent real quality time with the people she loves most.
I’ve gotten much closer to my mom and dad since the accident, they’ve become my best friends.
Now she lives one day at a time. She lives in the present moment. Sometimes it scares her to see far into the future. You just never know what it holds. Be here. Be now.
TIME TO TAKE IT ONE STEP FURTHER
And so here we are are in October 2019 and she winds up in one of my STOTT PILATES© MATWORK certification! I always do a check in with all my students at the beginning of class to see if they have injuries or limitations that could affect their performance.
Justine casually mentioned she was in a car accident years ago that still hinders her at times but she was good at listening to her body so no need to worry. And so that’s what I did. I watched her throughout the course make modifications, take breaks, change sitting positions and push herself while being mindful.
One day I decided to ask her to tell me her story. It blew me away and as a mother of young children I just can’t imagine what she went through and also the pain and fear it caused her parents. I sit here with tears in my eyes, some of sadness but some of joy and awe at this young girl who overcame so much already, at such a young age.
She told me she wanted to become a pilates instructor so she could help others like she was helped. She feels like she got to know her body through pilates and she wants others to feel this too.
Justine today, her scars remind her of life’s fragility. During her STOTT PILATES Reformer and Matwork certification courses
The body is powerful. The mind is powerful. Pilates helps you connect with your mind and body in order to have ease in your vessel.
‘’Your body is your motor, it takes you everywhere and follows you your entire life. We need to take care of it’’ , she says.
When she goes to bed at night she tells herself that if can share her story with love and joy to those around her and inspire them to live and love fully, then she can die anytime without regret. She loves life. She never stopped fighting because she wants to live, she doesn’t want to take anything for granted, she wants to enjoy, love and accept.
‘’Don’t ever forget that time is precious’’ Justine, 2020
*The driver of the car was charged with careless driving and spent some time in prison. Since this happened Justine and the other girls’ fathers created Cool Taxi in Montreal, Quebec, a coupon system to pay for taxis when you don’t have money. You just buy it online and then give it to your child to use when short on cash or stuck and scared. Justine has recently completed the STOTT PILATES© Matwork and Reformer certification courses at Connexion Pilates and has slowly started teaching classes in Laval and Montreal. She hopes to share her passion about getting to know your body, healing through movement and using your mind to become strong and connected.
Author : Brigitte Robitaille
Brigitte Robitaille has been teaching pilates for over 15 years and loves sharing her passion about the human body and mind connections. She’s been training the next STOTT PILATES© instructors for over 10 years and is passionate about sharing her knowledge to keen students looking for something deeper. She teaches in Montreal and Rosemere, Quebec and focuses on prenatal, postnatal, kids and clients of all ages with specific needs and injuries. She hosts retreats for women and workshops on the pelvic floor and diastasi recti in Montreal and the North Shore. She also practices massage therapy, Brain-Gym and EFT/Tapping because if she can help people connect to the vessel that carries them everywhere all day long, she’s happy 😊 When her girls reach about 16 years of age, she plans to contact Justine so she can tell them her story!!!
Breathe, grow and let go,