‘Miracle’ snowmobile-crash survivor lucky to be alive, eager to live again
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On Christmas Day last year, Ethan Christie’s parents and siblings were allowed into his room at Health Sciences Centre to essentially say their goodbyes while he lay in a medically induced coma.
After suffering severe injuries in a snowmobile crash two days earlier, he was about to undergo a type of brain surgery that was considered a “last-ditch effort” to save his life, said his mother, Michelle Christie.
“He was given a one per cent chance of survival,” she said. “It was a worst nightmare. Our Christmas wish was for his survival, nothing else.”
Thanks to two friends who were with Ethan that day, the intervention of emergency services and health-care workers and his sheer will to live, the 20-year-old defied those slim odds and survived.
Ethan, whose mother describes him as a “medical miracle,” is still facing a long journey of recovery. Remaining positive, he’s determined to get his life back to where it was before the crash.
“The fact I’m so young and I have a whole life ahead of me still, that’s a factor that’s been motivating me,” said Ethan, who lives in the Rural Municipality of Headingley.
He’s sharing his story to encourage snowmobile riders to take precautions and ride safe as a new season gets underway.
Having suffered a traumatic brain injury, he has no memory of the Dec. 23 crash. He doesn’t remember buying the snowmobile he saved for while working as a welder.
“I personally do not remember six months of my life,” he said.
The near-fatal crash happened around 4 p.m. while he was headed home during an afternoon of sledding.
Riding alongside a farmer’s field near Sanford, about 25 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg, Christie had just passed his friends when he hit a drainage ditch in an area he wasn’t familiar with.
The snowmobile was travelling at an estimated 80 km/h, his mother said.
It launched into the air and landed about 100 metres past the ditch, throwing Ethan, who was wearing a helmet and was sober, to the ground, she said.
“The fact I’m so young and I have a whole life ahead of me still, that’s a factor that’s been motivating me.”–Ethan Christie
His friends called for help and directed emergency services personnel to their location.
Three RM of Macdonald firefighters, who also work for the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, drove to the scene on their snowmobiles after hearing the emergency call, said Michelle.
The trio performed CPR and helped stabilize Ethan, who was intubated at the scene before being taken to HSC by ambulance.
In addition to severe head trauma, his injuries included a shattered hyoid bone in his neck, a deep laceration to his trachea, chipped vertebrae and fractures to his pelvis and hips.
While Ethan underwent the first of many surgeries, his loved ones feared the worst.
An emergency hemicraniectomy, which removed part of his skull and allowed his swollen brain to bulge to relieve pressure inside his head, was performed on Christmas Day.
He was in an induced coma for almost three weeks on the surgical intensive care unit, where visit were restricted due to COVID-19 rules.
“I knew he was in there (while in a coma). I talked to him for eight to 10 hours a day like I was carrying on a conversation in a Tim Hortons,” said his mother.Amid COVID-19 restrictions, Ethan Christie's parents Michelle (front left) and Duncan (back right) and siblings Zach and Kylee were allowed into his room at Health Sciences Centre on Christmas Day in 2021, after he was given a one per cent chance of survival following a snowmobile crash.
The sight of tubes running into his body was hard on his family.
He doesn’t remember waking from the coma or being moved to a step-down unit at HSC. After two months at HSC, he was moved to a rehabilitation program at Riverview Health Centre.
In June, he had titanium mesh implanted in his head to support bone regeneration following the removal of part of his skull.
Riverview staff helped him relearn, among other things, how to swallow solid food, sit up in bed and walk during a roughly eight-month stay.
Ethan walked unaided to a vehicle when he was discharged Oct. 7.
Over the coming months and years, he will continue to undergo rehabilitation and take anti-seizure medication. He will require additional operations.
Previously independent and living on his own, the change in lifestyle has been a challenge. He cannot participate in the outdoor activities he loves nor join his friends on a night out.
“All the things I used to enjoy doing,” he said. “Now, I’m at home 24-7 and barely going out.”
His goals include returning to work, driving a vehicle again and getting back on a snowmobile and all-terrain vehicles.
“I don’t want to be sitting at home,” he said. “I want a normal life again.”
He and his family are thankful for the community support and the efforts of everyone involved in his rescue and “world-class” care.
A GoFundMe page set up by Ethan’s cousin has raised almost $35,000 to cover future expenses associated with his recovery.
While he’s eager to get back on his sled, Christie has some advice for those who are riding on and off trails this winter.
Slow down and take your time when you’re in an unfamiliar area, ride with others and wear a quality helmet, he said.
“Would you rather spend $400 or would you rather lose your life?” he said.
He’s encouraging riders to take out extra insurance coverage, which he did despite the added cost, in case of serious injury.
Yvonne Rideout, executive director of Snowmobilers of Manitoba (Snoman), urges riders to use the organization’s 13,000-kilometre network of groomed trails.
“It is the safest option,” she said.
“I don’t want to be sitting at home… I want a normal life again.”–Ethan Christie
A $150 Snopass, available through Manitoba Public Insurance agents, is required to use the network, which is maintained by volunteer clubs but has not yet opened for the season.
Riders should avoid waterways that are not yet frozen, keep their speed in check and not consume any alcohol or drugs, said Rideout.
People can take a safety course on Snoman’s website, she added.
As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.
Updated on Tuesday, November 22, 2022 8:20 PM CST: Adds new photos