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Accident won’t slow woman down

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Headingley resident Emelia Grobler is still recovering from a December boating accident in which she nearly lost her leg while on a family vacation in South Africa.

The boat was travelling on a narrow canal in the Eastern Cape town of St. Francis when it collided with another boat head on, throwing Emelia into the water.

"I remember feeling something on my leg that felt like a fan and it was chopping up my leg and I knew it was the propeller," she said. "The propeller spat me out and I was finally out of the water and could feel the excruciating pain. I actually thought my leg was off, but I couldn’t see because of the water."

The 26-year-old’s right leg was deeply cut in three places and her big left toe was hanging on by a piece of skin.

"It was basically amputated," she said. "This one was kind of affected, the second one beside it, but it wasn’t off."

Her father, Willie Grobler, a doctor, was also on the boat and accompanied her in the ambulance.

"She was so critical, so my wife who is a nurse and I did what we could with the resources they had in the ambulance," Willie said.

"They had a stretcher in that didn’t have any straps, so she was laying free on the stretcher. We just had to hold her down. I had to make a makeshift splint from an oar we got from another boat."

Willie, who is originally from South Africa, says the ambulance was driving between 160 and 180 km an hour for the over-100-km "scary" ride from St. Francis to a hospital in Port Elizabeth, where she underwent emergency surgery.

"They basically focused on restoring my leg so they don’t have to amputate it." Emelia said. "They put hardware inside my leg to keep it in place."

Emelia came home Jan. 21 and had another surgery on Feb. 10.

After the surgeries and physiotherapy, she has trouble walking and says she can’t feel four inches below her right knee. It will take a year or two before the feeling returns, she says.

Even though she has difficulty walking, she has regained some mobility via a newly outfitted car with a left-side gas pedal. She got her new license, allowing her to drive a modified vehicle, on July 8.

"I feel like my independence is coming back slowly," she said.

Independence was what Emelia was seeking before her accident.

"There was a lot of emotional stuff to deal with, too, because I planned to move out in January to an apartment and start my own life. It feels like your life is delayed a little bit."

In September, Emelia will take her chartered accountant designation exam.

"I’m not letting the accident keep me from doing stuff that I wanted to do before the accident," she said.

Amber McGuckin is a community correspondent for Headingley.

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