Editor’s note: This story contains graphic details that may be disturbing to some readers.
Sunnybrook’s trauma department has a world-class reputation. Some of the most critically ill and injured patients from across Ontario – and beyond – find themselves in Sunnybrook’s care.
Here, two trauma patients share their stories of determination and survival – and how the team at Sunnybrook helped them stay alive.
Nicole’s story: Nicole Moore is a warrior.
This past July, she was among a few hundred Ontarians competing in the Warrior Dash, a 5.5-kilometre obstacle course that includes leaping through fire, darting through metal wreckage and wading through waist-deep mud.
It’s hard to believe that little more than a year ago, Nicole was an inpatient at Sunnybrook recovering from a horrific and highly publicized shark attack in Cancun, Mexico.
January 31, 2011: A vacation with friends in Mexico was no excuse for Nicole, an active nurse, to sit back and relax. So, covered in sand after a game of beach volleyball, she headed into the ocean to rinse off. As the Orangeville mother waded into water about waist high, two men on Sea-Doo watercraft shouted at her in Spanish. She wasn’t sure what they were saying but decided to get out of the water nonetheless.
“Then I felt a bump,” she calmly recounts. “Within seconds of that bump came the first bite.”
A shark bit through Nicole’s upper left thigh.
It just took the flesh right off, right down to the bone. I am missing two of my quadriceps and two of my hamstrings on the back of my leg.”
Nicole knew right away what was happening. “There was just an ocean of red surrounding me.”
Despite the massive injury to her leg, she tried to walk to shore. That’s when the shark – or perhaps a second shark; it remains unclear – attacked her left arm.
It had my whole arm inside its mouth,” Nicole says. “It was hanging off of my arm. I’m looking at this shark and it’s trying to pull me down. We are struggling,” she says, recalling the moment of the attack.
Nicole smacked the shark square in the nose, a decision based on something she’d heard in her diving training. “It’s a very sensitive spot for them.” She was able to pull her arm free.
“But I can’t walk much further; I don’t have a leg to walk on,” Nicole recalls of the post-attack moments. “Finally, the men on the Sea-Doos were able to lock fingers with me and gun me to shore.”
As she lay battered and bloodied on the beach, Nicole’s training as a nurse kicked in. “Given the horrific scene people were looking at, they were just standing around but no one was doing anything,” she says. “I looked at my wounds, realized how severe they were and asked for help.
“A man used his bare hands to apply pressure on my leg wound while others around were also scrambling to help. After my leg had pressure on it and someone tied a string around it, I turned my attention to the bite on my arm and knew I was bleeding badly from that wound, as well. I told the young woman who was sitting next to me that I need a tourniquet for my arm. A man pulled the string off his shorts and the woman used it to tie off my arm.”
Nicole remained conscious during the whole ordeal. “I can remember all of it. I was completely lucid and awake and alert and not in a panic,”
Nicole was rushed to a Cancun hospital, where surgeons operated on her arm and leg. She remained in intensive care there for nearly a week until she was flown to Sunnybrook.
Back on home soil BUT far from home: Days later at Sunnybrook, the plastic surgery team was horrified by what they found when they pulled back Nicole’s bandages. Her wounds were contaminated and rotting. She underwent two emergency surgeries – totalling more than 15 hours – that she says saved her life.