Unfortunately, Nicole and her care team encountered many complications. Her body rejected the skin flap attached to cover the shark bite on her arm. Doctors were unable to save the arm and amputated it above the elbow.
“To get rid of the arm, I felt relieved because it was so painful. There were very few days of tears. I’m very, very grateful to be alive and be there for my kids. Every day was more of a gift.”
Nicole stayed at Sunnybrook for nearly two months. It was far for family to visit, but the care was worth it, she says. “Sunnybrook did a fantastic job,” she says. “I really feel like I owe them not only my life, but my well-being as well. They contributed immensely to me being at ease.”
In spring, 2011, Nicole returned home to her husband Jay and two young daughters to continue her recovery.
Long road to recovery: Nicole’s first year of recovery began very well. Her family was adjusting and her condition improved.
“I was able to return to aerobics, get on the stationary bike, go swimming,” she says. “I was able to kayak with a pedal kayak and that was fantastic.” But in February, 2012, Nicole had another surgery at Sunnybrook and remained in hospital for four weeks.
“They reconstructed my leg again with another skin flap. For the first year of recovery, I had part of my femur exposed because nothing would take due to the wound being down to the bone,” she says. “Also, some problems with my stump were prohibiting me from wearing my prosthetic. Unfortunately, the recovery this time has been much more challenging. But, we’ll get there.”
The prosthetics process is a long and expensive one. “After the surgery, I am able to wear my prosthetic in short bursts, which I love,” she says. “It’s so fantastic to have that tool. My community has been supportive in helping raise money for this.”
Looking ahead: Nicole can’t wait to get back to work. She’s hopeful that accommodations can be made to allow her to continue as a nurse. “Nursing is so much a part of who I am,” she says. “I’m hoping to be back at work this fall.”
And she’s got some pretty ambitious physical goals for someone still in the midst of recovery: a bike ride with her two girls and downhill skiing this winter. She’s working with her physiotherapists and prosthetics team at Sunnybrook to help move forward.
“I’m still working on it. I’m very determined,” she says. “And hopefully I’ll do a triathlon by 2014. There’s no stopping me.”
Lenore’s story: July 11, 2009: It was Saturday afternoon, just 10 minutes until closing time on Lenore Wirtz’s fifth day of work at a women’s apparel store in Orangeville. A man came in and began browsing. He’d been in earlier in the day checking out skirts for his girlfriend and returned to purchase one for her, he said.
Suddenly, he lunged at Lenore, grabbed her and forced her into the back stock room.
“I encouraged him to rob the store and take the money instead of hurting me. I told him I wouldn’t call the police,” she recalls.
He told Lenore to give him all the money in the store and then returned to the stock room. Wrapping a long piece of twine around Lenore’s neck, he strangled her until she was unconscious. When she came to, the attacker was straddled on top of her. He pulled a knife from his back pocket. “I guess he decided he’d have to kill me so I couldn’t identify him. I got more than 31 stab wounds,” the 46-year-old says. “I was conscious.”