Lenore tried to fight back. In the struggle, her attacker stabbed his own arm with the knife. When he went to the washroom to tend to his wound, Lenore tried to get away. “I was able to stand up. I was very weak and there was blood everywhere,” Lenore says. “I just kept saying to myself, ‘I’ve got to get out. I’ve got to get out.’” The man realized Lenore was up and trying to get away. He threw her to the ground. She pleaded for her life.
Lenore realized she wouldn’t get out of there alive unless she played dead. She slowed down her breathing and watched through her eyelashes as he went through the store, stealing clothing, her purse and her phone. When he was done, he returned to check her near-lifeless body and kicked her to see if she was dead. She lay still. He fled out the back door and left in Lenore’s car.
She couldn’t see. She could barely move. But she dragged herself to the front of the store, rose to unlock the door and emerged onto the street. There, a passerby found her and called 911.
Airlifted to Sunnybrook: Lenore remained conscious as emergency personnel tended to her on the street. “When I was in the ambulance, I heard them say they were calling the air ambulance to take me to Sunnybrook. When I heard that, I knew it must be really bad. Sleepy little Orangeville doesn’t see this stuff. Sunnybrook knows trauma.”
The most significant injury was to her left wrist. The attacker had cut it down to the bone. She also had two punctured lungs and a punctured liver. “Eventually the pain was too great and I was screaming in my head but nothing was coming out,” Lenore says. “The next day I woke up in critical care.”
She underwent two surgeries that first night. Surgeons repaired the wounds to her abdomen and conducted a seven-hour-long surgery to reattach her wrist. While she has limited motor skills and extreme sensitivity in her hand, doctors were able to reconnect all of the nerves and tendons.
“It was a tough time,” she says. “But I was so happy to be alive. I don’t want to make it sound like it was all happy smiles. It was emotionally difficult to try to understand what the heck had happened. It was a brutal attack and completely random. It wasn’t against me, Lenore, as a person.”
Each day brought improvements. Lenore remained in hospital for 13 days before returning home to her husband and three daughters. “My three daughters were all going back to school in six weeks,” Lenore says. “My middle daughter was heading off to university for her first year. We were trying hard to find a new normal and give her the security and confidence to go and live away from home.”
The man who attacked Lenore was convicted of attempted murder and is serving 13 years.
Three years later: Lenore has had two additional surgeries at Sunnybrook in the years since the attack. She underwent two years of hand therapy.
“It was incredible coming back as an outpatient,” she says. “It was a long way but I was prepared to do it. I’m so grateful I was able to get that kind of care.”
The Wirtz family has now settled into their new normal, Lenore says. “We are all hypersensitive to our safety,” she says. “Unfortunately, that’s been shattered for my daughters.” Each year, they celebrate Mother’s Day with high tea at Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Lenore has never returned to the store where the attack took place and memories of the incident and her recovery flood back whenever she sees an air ambulance. “I am so grateful I was taken to Sunnybrook to receive the care we received, me and my family. You can’t believe the support we received.”
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