It's been almost nine months since a Manitoban woman was severely injured in a car crash and as she continues to make her way down the road to recovery, her community has stepped up to give her a helping hand.
It's been a hard couple of months for Brianna Seewald of Mitchell, Man. On August 17 of last year, she was travelling down Highway 12 when she suddenly t-boned a vehicle attempting to cross Provincial Road 210. She provided an update on her recovery journey.
"I've been out of my collar and my neck has been free from all braces for almost two months now. I'm doing well physically, my bones are healing as they should. I've finally come out of the woods of maybe needing back or neck surgery, which is good. There are still things and follow-up appointments that will have to happen for the next year. It's overwhelming at times but it's good. I've really come through this on the other side and now it's about recovering my body to where it needs to be and where it can be."
The physical injuries aside, Seewald had to deal with the emotional scars following the accident when it came to dealing with the person responsible for her collision.
"I had no idea what the system was going to be like. I had no idea going into it, what sentencing for something like this. I've never been in a car crash or part of anything like this. It's been a very hard experience to go through. Because we live in a 'no fault' province, there was no real penalty given to the individual. I do want to stress that I do not wish ill upon the other person, it was a four-second mistake and one that I hope he can learn from and that I can help others learn from as well. I make a point not to say his name because I don't wish ill on him, it was a mistake. It's a mistake I have to live with now and I have to pay for every day of my life. He ended up getting a $1,000 fine and a $2,000 restitution order to be paid back to me, which doesn't even cover a full week of spinal rehab. There will be no other penalties given to this person."
Walking out of the courtroom that day, Seewald admits to feeling like she didn't really matter. "The whole process was so anti-climatic" she explains. "It just got said like, 'well, this is what's going to happen so have a nice day.' My fiancee Ryan and I just sat outside in the lobby to gather our thoughts and I just couldn't believe it... my life was only worth $1,000. Had I died there that day, that the penalty would have been exactly the same. There was a real sense of being defeated. My mental fortitude has been very good throughout the situation, up until the last few weeks and that was a lot to deal with and that was the moment I truly felt broken. I had waited for closure in this moment and I knew there would never be justice served, it was a mistake in a moment that can never be taken back. There's a man who lives with unimaginable guilt and I don't wish that for him but then there's me living with life-changing injuries because of his mistake. I hoped there would be closure, being able to face this person and go through it, but that never happened."
It's not just the person who caused the accident but the system itself that Seewald feels has failed. "Change always starts with a ripple effect. As a province, we can come together to make this better. There needs to be penalties for people who say 'I was carelessly driving and I decided not to look across four lanes of the highway and I decided to speed across', there should be penalties for that. There should be a better investigation after an accident. People should look at phone records, people should not be allowed to refuse care, especially if they admitted to causing an accident. Do I think every accident deserves jail time? Absolutely not. Accidents can be accidents. There are icy roads, animals, or losing control, those are accidents but what happened to me was a collision, a very preventable one. I could have died there that day, but I didn't. The province needs to work on making better penalties for these kinds of things and I believe if there were stiffer penalties, people would maybe think twice. I think the province owes it to Manitobans, not only as Maitobans but as people to show compassion in these situations and make a change where change is needed."
Has the man responsible ever told Brianna Seewald that he's sorry? Has he ever gone to her and tried to make things as right as they can be?
"No". Seewald says matter of factly. "The night before court, I received a typed-up apology about two paragraphs long. I've never heard this man's voice, I've never seen him... all I know of him is what I saw through my broken windshield as he circled around my car. I would have been open to an apology. I would have shown forgiveness at that moment. I feel like forgiveness could have been a huge moment for both of us to alleviate pain and suffering. I showed up that day. I showed up at a great personal cost to myself to face the man who almost killed me. He did not show up. He chose to do his part of the court hearing over the phone. The night before court... the night before, I got an 'apology' letter."
As Seewald continues to push forward towards getting back to some semblance of life that she had prior to the accident, another hurdle has been put in her path. "I had to formally petition to MPI for spinal rehab. Because of COVID-19 and being discharged long before I should have been, I missed out on formal spinal rehab right away. Spinal rehab would be dedicated to the injuries I have and healing them or at least making me more functional with what I have right now. MPI doesn't fund for exercise-based therapy programs and that's what First Steps Wellness is. It's dedicated to spinal rehab and getting people a functional life. Immediate approval was denied. They were just so cavalier, like 'well, we can't fund it, but have a nice day.' I asked, just to be clear that this is a chance for me to walk again, to be functional, me being a nurse again... it's just that easy to be denied? It turns out it's legislation that decides what they cover and what they don't. So, they denied it. I was heartbroken. I just stayed in bed and sobbed because that was my little glimmer of hope to be able to get back to life again. The cost was just too great for me to afford to do it alone. It's $100 an hour, I'd do 4 hours a day for 5 days a week, that's $2000 every other week, $6,000-$8,000 and that's just a cost we can't afford anymore. There are so many things we've come into contact with that insurance doesn't cover. There's a large misconception that MPI covers everything after you get into an accident. I thought that if you got into an accident, you'd be fine, you'd be covered and that's just not the case."
Seewald and her soon-to-be husband Ryan agreed a drastic step had to be taken and they had to ask people for help. "We decided to do GoFundMe and it's not something I thought I'd have ever done," Seewald says. "It's a little bit of an ego thing, it's not wanting to ask people to pay for something that should be covered by an insurance company but I need to be functional again and I have a real chance if I get the proper therapy. We made the page and I knew there would be some people behind us, we hoped to maybe get a month paid for. The days have gone on and the number keeps going up. Ryan and I went outside when it was nice one day and when I got back in, my phone was dead. I didn't know how but when I plugged it in, I had over 1000 notifications and that's what drained the battery. So many people messaged and donated and now we have over 3 months of therapy paid for. I'm going to be starting in the next few weeks."
Smitty's Steinbach saw Brianna's heart-wrenching message and they are stepping up in a massive way to show their support. "This Friday, Smitty's Steinbach and the Meadowwood location at St. Vital, has offered to donate 10% of all take-out orders towards my spinal rehab. Whenever someone orders Friday, it will go towards the GoFundMe. I'm just so, so thankful. I'm so overwhelmed and so thankful for them for reaching out."
Seewald says there's no way she could ever repay the community for all the support but she hopes to be able to give back in a small way by continuing her career in nursing. "I worked so hard to be a nurse and I only got to be a nurse for 11 and 1/2 months," she says with a little chuckle. "There were some challenging times but the good days always outweighed the bad and I can't wait to get back. I can take my experience being a patient on the other side of the care and really use that."
Overcome with emotion, Seewald did have a special message for those who've supported and continue to help her through the process. "I don't think people realize what it means to me. It's not just rehab... this is me walking down my wedding aisle. It's me returning to my job as a nurse. It's me running and playing with my future kids one day. It's my life. They're paying to help restore life. It's beautiful and overwhelming. I can't thank the community, my friends, and loved ones enough. It's more than I could ever hope for."
Written by Dave Anthony