Maria Pavlides – My Family’s Story
It all started on June 6th, 2013, my husband Chris Pavlides was driving home from work very excited to see his parents who were arriving from their hometown of Cyprus for a vacation. Chris worked full time as a project manager for a company in Markham. Chris was well loved and respected by his peers, his management team as well his suppliers.
On June 6th, I was travelling home from work at 5:25 pm on Altona Road in Pickering, Ontario. Hearing sirens I was forced to pull over to the side of the road to let the emergency vehicles pass and make their way to the accident scene. I decided to bypass the accident to avoid sitting in traffic and proceeded to the next intersection (Sheppard Avenue) then continued to travel east on my drive home. My 12 ½-year-old son then and my lovely 17-year-old niece were waiting for us to arrive home. My 7-year-old daughter was waiting for her dad to pick her up from daycare. We were all going to go to her last swim class of the year. It was 5:40 pm when I arrived home and I asked my son and niece to wait in the driveway as Chris was expected home anytime. There we all sat in the car and waited and waited. It was now 5:55 pm and my niece received a call from her mother (Chris’s sister) to advise us of an accident on Altona Road. She said she thinks it might be Chris’s vehicle, as she remembered his license plate. After hearing that it might be Chris’ vehicle involved in the accident, I suddenly started up my car and rushed to the daycare (with the kids) to check on my daughter. I ran through the front doors frantically as I wasn’t sure if our daughter was in the vehicle with him. I quickly saw our daughter waiting with 3 other daycare teachers to be picked up. I was in panicked mode and completely shaken. I advised the teachers that I think Chris may have been involved in a serious car accident and that I was initially unsure if our daughter was with him. They tried to calm me down and said it will be ok. My reaction was to immediately calm down for the sake of my daughter and to ensure that I could safely continue to drive.
We arrived at the scene literally 7 minutes after the pick-up from daycare and I noticed that it was, in fact, Chris’ car involved in the accident. My niece’s reaction was to scream and she said: “OMG it’s Uncle Chris’ car!” I pulled over to the side of the road and an officer came right over to talk with me. In shock, tears rolling down my face, I could not make out any of his words. My face all shaken, the officer asked for me to confirm Chris’s name. That day our lives were forever changed in minutes. The officer noticing that I had kids in my vehicle informed me that Chris is ok and that he was being rushed to Sunnybrook Hospital. He told me that he would call the hospital and let the emergency staff know that I was on my way. He also notified me that I was unable to drive and recommended that my sister-in-law drive me. That day was a huge shock. I was thinking that I lost the love of my life.
In shock, I drove my car slowly back to my house that was located 10 minutes away from the scene. My sister in law had driven us to drop off the kids at Chris’ aunt’s place where my 3-year-old was at. The kids jumped out of the car in complete silence, tears rolling down their face and absolutely scared. They walked into the house in distress and just watched us drive away in sadness. All of us could not believe this was happening to our family. My in-laws just arriving from Europe, my husband in a serious accident and nobody yet knew just how serious it was.
We finally arrived at Sunnybrook hospital and there were the emergency staff and an officer waiting to speak to me and provide me with an update. They asked us to go into a private room, to deliver the bad news. They asked us to sit down and slowly they came out and said that Chris broke his neck, looking in shock I asked what that meant. The officer with some hesitation said he is paralyzed from the neck down. I immediately dropped to the floor in tears, calling out for my kids, “my kids and what do I do, my kids, my kids”…! Family members heard the sad news and immediately they called to get an update to check in on Chris and me. I cried out so loud and through the tears, I was sharing the bad news that could barely come out of my mouth. I asked to see Chris who was still in the emergency room. When I saw him for the first time, he had a tube down his throat and a neck brace. Chris was trying to speak to me with fluids coming out of his mouth, he could barely talk. His left bottom lung lobe had also collapsed. The doctors kept coming in and out to deliver the news to both of us. They said that he will have to have a halo placed on his head to hold up his broken neck until surgery. He advised us that a halo nurse would come in to give us more information about the procedure.
Shortly thereafter, we were taken up to the intensive care unit on the second floor. We all gathered close together in silence and with profound sadness, we could barely speak. We waited patiently for them to have Chris settled in. Brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, parents and cousins all gathered. We asked ourselves how did this happen and why? What did we do to have this happen? Chris never speaks badly about anyone and he is so loved by many. After what felt like forever we all finally got in to see Chris. He was hooked up to so many machines alongside other patients who were in the same situation or worse. We met his nurses that evening (one in particular that I remember Andrea Fernandez) who was so amazing and supportive. I asked if I could be by Chris’s side all night. She told us that we would have to sleep in the waiting area; however, we could come in for visits as we pleased. We just needed to call into the receptionist in the ICU to ensure it was an okay time to visit. It was the longest night of my life.
The next morning my mother-in-law and I were called in to see the family social worker to provide us with support and documents to help us through this horrifying situation. We took the support and continued on with the day. We sat and watched over Chris and in shock didn’t know what to expect. The next day they had placed a halo on his head. It was a very big piece of metal screwed into Chris’ head to keep it in place.
After a few days, my brother-in-law Aristos and my cousin Andreas arrived at the hospital to provide us with support and to help me find the perfect lawyer to represent Chris and our family. After the help of a close friend (who knew of many great lawyers), we came up with a list of 5 Top Personal Injury Lawyers in Canada for us to interview. I was still very much in disbelief and shock and I didn’t quite comprehend why we needed a lawyer. I am thinking to myself that Chris will come out of ICU and we will walk out the hospital and go back home to our life. We interviewed the first team of lawyers, then a second one. I didn’t have much interest at all in this process and felt like an emotional wreck throughout. Over a week of interviews, the final interview was with Darcy Merkur and Wendy Moore Mandel of Thomson Rogers. My cousin and brother-in-law accompanied me to help me with the decision. Darcy had a deep and convincing voice with such an honest demeanour that made the decision so very easy for me.
After the hour interview and the various questions, I wanted to hire Darcy right on the spot but knew this wasn’t the right move. Better to wait and process the information and give it a couple of days before responding. Three days later we were proud to announce that we had hired Thomson, Rogers to fight our very emotional and sensitive case. Darcy knew that not only did he have to fight for Chris but for me and my loving kids. He could see through me that I was a complete mess who was just trying to be strong for my kids. The first question I had for him was what kind of therapy will be provided for me and my kids? Not long after we met this amazing person who we not only call our therapist but we call her our family. Darcy Merkur introduced us to Lynne Harford from The Social Work Consulting Group. We started our weekly family meetings shortly after meeting her. She made us feel like a family again. I was an emotional wreck, speechless and cried and cried when I was alone or in my sleep. I didn’t want to show my kids that I was not strong for them. I felt hopeless and useless and just wanted to curl up in a ball and just be left alone. I didn’t know how to respond to any emotions the kids had without first helping myself. I would not eat and I was living off of coffee. I would not leave my husband’s side. I had come to know the nursing crew in the ICU and they observed how compassionate I was towards Chris and they let me sleep curled up by his side every night. I just could not bear to leave him alone. The kids would not see me for days, I would not go home for days. I just wanted to be by Chris or be left alone to cry. We just never knew if Chris’s health was going to deteriorate or just remain the same. The last thing I wanted was for him to not be able to communicate with his family again. It was a total heartbreak to see your loved one in that position.
Over time Lynne Harford was more involved with our family and created some therapeutic fun activities to get us by. The kids and I were in need of more support to help us cope with the tragedy in our lives. Lynne, Chris and I decided to arrange for rehab support workers to assist us with creating increased structure and routine in the children’s lives. The rehab support workers helped with the after school routine and were able to pick up the kids from school and have therapy sessions with them. This allowed me to focus more on myself and Chris’s ongoing care needs. Without the emotional support of Lynne, our family and close friends I wouldn’t have been able to share all of my feelings and I would have been so closed up not wanting to see anyone or do anything.
The first few months I refused to go on antidepressant medication that had been recommended by my family doctor. I was thinking this will do me more harm than good. I later realized that this could be helpful in stabilizing my mood and I started on a low dose. This made a significant difference in my ability to function and prepare for Chris’s return home and my eventual return to work where my colleagues were like my second family.
The stress level continued when our home was evaluated to determine if it was safe and accessible for Chris to return home to. We were told that to make our home accessible it was going to cost us quite a bit of money. I had to react quickly and find my family a new home but that meant we would have to sell our current home. Having to move from a beautiful location in Pickering on a cul-de-sac was hurtful to the family. This is where my children grew up. This is where so many memories were shared.
Our families were so supportive through all of this. One of my four brothers offered his home for us to stay in until we could find the right home and have it retrofitted for Chris. The biggest challenge was to find the right home in the same area in Pickering. I didn’t want to add any further anxiety and stress to my children’s lives. They had been through so much already. Unfortunately, the only option we had was to move. My children were so upset, crying tears of sadness. There was nothing I could do in that moment to make it better for them but to be as supportive and comforting as I could be.
After 3 months at Sunnybrook, two surgeries (one on his neck and one on his spine) and a tracheostomy to help him breathe Chris was discharged to Toronto Rehab – Lyndhurst Centre where he continued in his recovery. He spent three months there and came home for the first time in December 2013. That day was the happiest of times since the accident, my husband and father of our three children was finally home with us.
In order for him to be home, the house had to be equipped with all of the necessary equipment that he would need to function in his day to day life. Our rehab team helped to ensure that Chris had all the necessary equipment ready for him at home.
I always promised Chris that I would be there for him in both health and sickness. I underwent some nursing training to be able to care for Chris myself until we could find a nurse or PSW that was the right fit for Chris. At first, I thought there was no way I could be able to do any of the tasks that health care workers do, I have a whole lot of respect for what they do for patients. I was trained to do his bowels, in and out (intermittent catheterization) head to toe assessments, showering, shaving, transferring to wheelchair and commodes. I learned the routine so well that I now train anyone new that comes into work with Chris.
Our love is so strong. Although we live a different life right now, it doesn’t change who we are. I still feel so stressed and want to cry when I think about how life was prior to Chris’ accident. We were planning our first family trip as a family for February 2014 but that never happened. I strive to make things better for Chris, my children and myself every day. But I know that my life (our life) is no longer the same. I need 24 hour care for Chris and I need to ensure he is with me at every moment or have someone stay home with him when I am out. He now goes through episodes of low blood pressure and passes out. This has been scary for all of us. The kids have grown up too fast and they have had to learn how to care for someone like Chris. As a family we have learned together how to respect and be more sensitive to people who are living with disabilities. I would do anything and give my whole heart to help and support people who have been impacted by a disability. We now know (through our own lived experiences) the many struggles, challenges and triumphs that these individuals and their families face on a daily basis.
Most importantly through all of these experiences, we met so many wonderful nurses and healthcare staff from both Sunnybrook and Lyndhurst who cared for and supported both Chris and me throughout this process. I wanted to be part of Chris’s healing. Being there each of every day, experiencing the pain together and advocating for him at every step throughout his recovery made us stronger as a couple. All my dear friends, all the hockey moms (you know who you are), our family, cousins, siblings, aunts and uncles especially my children, Michael, Gabriella and Lucas for all the hugs and kisses thank you for helping me with the healing process and to cope with the pain. Love you all dearly.
It is 3 years since the accident and to this day I continue to seek help from a psychotherapist and I routinely cry when driving home or in the shower to release the pain. I think about how far we have come and how much we have done to heal ourselves. I know that it is important to continue taking care of myself so that I can be the best mother to my children and the best wife to my husband.
I often think to myself that one day Chris may no longer be with us, this allows me to live each day in the best possible way.
My life remains full with caring for Chris and the needs of my family. I still wake up every night to reposition Chris and drain his bladder. Blossom who is a dear PSW cares for Chris alongside the nursing support we receive from CCAC.
I have returned to work and this has been the best thing for my mental, emotional and social health. This was one of the best decisions I made for myself and I would strongly suggest this to anyone who is going through the same. It is easy to lose yourself in the midst of chaos. I do my very best to care for my kids and be involved in their daily life by bringing them to school and activities. Through all of this, I have learned to be a better cook, a better gardener and find time for me. This is not a journey you can do alone. I want to thank my in-laws and my parents who were always there for Chris, for me and for my children. We couldn’t have done it without their support.
I hope my family’s story has taught you something. I ask that you look at your family and remind yourself of all the blessings that you have in your life today. It is only in a moment that life can change. I now know this and because I do, I live my life to the fullest every single day and my wish for you is that you do the same.
Chris Pavlides was driving on Altona Road in Pickering, Ontario when he was struck by a young driver that oversteered into his lane. He suffered quadriplegia and had an extensive stay at Sunnybrook Hospital, then Toronto Rehab – Lyndhurst Centre. Chris was represented by personal injury lawyer Darcy Merkur, a partner at the law firm of Thomson, Rogers.