A catastrophic injury changes a person’s life in an instant. It’s important to understand how an accident like this could impact your own life as well. In addition to physical and emotional impacts, these injuries cause serious financial damages as well. Below is an interview with a person who has experienced such an injury.
Kathryn Burmeister: Hi Steve and thank you for taking the time to sit down with me to discuss your experience with catastrophic injury. Please share some details about how your injury occurred and the immediate aftermath.
Stephen Thorne: Hi Kathryn and it’s my pleasure to talk about this important topic because, for me — as for everyone else, the accident was totally unexpected and unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. I was in Canada visiting friends and we went out fishing for sturgeon. Suddenly, one of these huge, powerful fish was tugging on my line. I exerted such an immense amount of energy and force in an attempt to reel that monster into the boat that it caused the small capillaries in my back and spine area to rupture and begin to bleed.
This caused hemorrhaging in my brain and abdominal cavity as well. I wasn’t even aware of my injuries until the next evening when I woke up at 2:00 am gripped with severe pain all across my back and around my torso. It radiated across my chest and into my stomach area. At that moment, I seriously thought I was having a heart attack. I felt terrified and called the hotel front desk to request paramedics. Everything’s a blur after that — the pain blotted everything else out. It was blinding. The medical team rushed me to the local ER and from there I was moved to an acute care hospital in Vancouver.
I spent three months as an in-patient at several hospitals and rehab facilities in Canada and the US.
Kathryn Burmeister: I’m so sorry that happened to you. I bet it was really hard on loved ones and close friends. Give me a picture of what that stress and anxiety looked and felt like, if you can.
Stephen Thorne: The Canadian hospital staff notified my wife, Amy, telling her I was hospitalized there. Initially, she wasn’t aware of how seriously I was injured. She arranged to leave our three-year-old son with her mother, put her work on hold, and booked a flight.
When she arrived, one of the hospital physicians informed her of my very serious condition. He told her I was at risk of slipping into a coma and dying without regaining consciousness again. If I did happen to recover consciousness and regain strength enough to be released, he informed her that there was no chance I would ever walk again. Can you imagine what a shock that must have been for her — to hear all of this after the panic and anxiety of making the last minute travel arrangements just hours before?
I was completely out of it due to high doses of pain management medications, so couldn’t focus with enough clarity to offer any support to her — my love — to give her reassurance and a hope.
I believe this was the darkest point for her — her fear of losing me and having to tell our son that his daddy would not come home. She was definitely in shock and, for a long time, did not allow herself to process the associated emotions for fear it might be too much for her to handle all at once.
Kathryn Burmeister: What an unbelievably painful time for both of you, Steve. So, after the initial shock and stress had dissipated, what lasting impact has this catastrophic injury had on your family life? The way you handle everyday tasks and challenges? What lasting physical effects encroach on your lifestyle? How are you and your family coping?
Stephen Thorne: It has been a challenge to say the least, Kathryn. My primary diagnosis was spinal compression injury at T8, resulting in my being a paraplegic. The extent of these types of injuries and the required recovery times vary a great deal from patient-to-patient. In my case, it was considered an ‘incomplete injury,’ meaning while I now have my mobility back, I still have limited nerve function in my lower extremities. My in-patient rehabilitation at Shepherd Center here in Atlanta was intense.
I made significant progress during the following six months and am now able to walk without assistive devices. I continue to experience weakness on my right side, especially involving my right leg. My daily rehab routine continues at home and we’re optimistic about my continued improvement. Nights are harder than the days because I get tired and physically unstable.
I still can’t walk well with my son in my arms and there are a few other limitations, but I maintain a hope of eventually experiencing 100% recovery. I could never have managed without my wife. She visited me as often as possible, bringing our son to see me, so I could spend time with him. This kept me focused on the goal of recovery and acted as the catalyst that helped me gain so much back compared to when I began my journey.
Kathryn Burmeister: Thank goodness you have Amy and such a precious little boy to keep you going. In addition to the physical and emotional challenges caused by catastrophic injuries, they always come with a sizable financial impact on both the individual and family unit. How has the accident affected your financial situation, in general? How about more specifically?
Stephen Thorne: Since my injury occurred in Canada, my health insurance company did not cover any costs for the first three weeks while I was hospitalized in Canada. I incurred about $250,000 in medical bills during that three weeks — from doctor fees to hospitalization costs to the cost of the medical flight home. We’re trying to work out a payment plan now, but that’s a huge sum of money, which we just don’t have the ability to pay at this time. We’re willing to do our best, but the frustrating part is that the hospital wants large monthly payments.
Fortunately, once I returned to the states, my health insurance kicked in immediately, covering all of my stateside medical expenses.
Kathryn Burmeister: How has your philosophy on life changed and what advice would you give others who are just beginning the process of coping with a catastrophic injury?
Stephen Thorne: First, I advise people who plan to travel outside the US to make sure they understand their medical coverage, its limitations, and if they cover out of country expenses. My catastrophic injury was significant. I was wheelchair-bound for several months. I graduated to a walker, then to crutches, and finally to walking on my own. It takes courage and determination to reach your maximum level of recovery. You need to have a good, strong team around you and the humility to listen to your therapists. They can help you, regardless of your situation.
For me, having faith in God and knowing He has a purpose for me is of paramount importance. Trust that you will be where God wants you to be, when He wants you to be there. This played a huge role in my recovery and continues to bring me hope in all things. My faith carried me when I could not carry myself.
Steve Thorne could not recover financial damages for his injuries due to the adventure company owner not having sufficient insurance and other unique details of his case. If you have suffered a serious or catastrophic injury, contact Attorney Kathryn Burmeister of Burmeister Law Firm so this doesn’t happen to you.