It’s been nearly a month since 15-year-old Natalie Wilkie lost most of the fingers on her left hand in an incident at the Jackson Campus wood shop.
But she’s already been back bowling, went back for the last few days of school, joined in ski training with her Larch Hills ski race teammates, hiked a glacier and helped to lead a summer art camp for children.
Natalie’s pinkie and ring finger are completely gone, while she has small stubs of her index and middle fingers remaining after getting her hand caught in joinery equipment on June 14. Her thumb is still functional.
She was airlifted to hospital in Kelowna for treatment.
Her mother, Karin Wilkie, explains the initial hope was for reattachment, but it quickly become clear the severed fingers were too damaged.
“I could tell even the surgeon seemed sad. He wanted to be able to tell us he could fix it, but he couldn’t tell us that. There was just no way, those fingers were gone,” said Karin.
After spending three days in hospital, Natalie went home and is beginning to adjust to her new reality.
While there are still moments of grief, and her pain is still being managed with medication, Natalie is setting her focus on moving forward and finding new ways to continue doing the things she loves – music, art, writing and skiing.
Self-pity isn’t really where Natalie’s at.
“There was a couple days of feeling pretty awful, but I’m bored with that. Now it’s figuring out how to do the things I want to do.”
That includes figuring out ways to play the left-handed piano parts with her right hand, and continuing to train for cross-country ski racing.
After catching the flu and missing the cut for the B.C. development racing team this past season, Natalie was looking to this coming season as an opportunity to reach her goal. Now that reality has shifted, but she is determined.
“I’m going to be back skiing. I’ve got people who are already working on designing things that will let me hold a ski pole and if I have to I’ll ski with one pole. I love it and this isn’t going to stop me.”
Both Natalie and Karin say they have been overwhelmed by the support and caring of the community.
The Larch Hills Ski team immediately began making meals and bringing over baking, volunteers picked strawberries and cards and flowers came in.
“At first I thought we didn’t need all that, but it was such a difficult thing and we were stressed and busy and there were so many calls and appointments.
We also needed some quiet time to adjust. Those people doing all those things allowed us to do that. People were amazing.”
Karin is also grateful for the care of those who responded to the emergency – the paramedics, doctors, nurses, social workers – especially in the short time before she arrived at Kelowna General Hospital.
“Of course, that was the hardest thing, not to be right there with my daughter when she was in such great distress, but she was supported by a lot of nice people, kind people.”
Natalie says her spirits were raised when friends delivered a big bag of cards from students at Salmon Arm Secondary, including a special yearbook, which had to have additional pages added to accommodate all the well-wishes.
The SAS Jazz Band also made a special tribute to Natalie by dedicating their Wednesday on the Wharf performance to her and wearing ribbons in her honour.
“When we got the text about that in the hospital it was very emotional. We were crying,” says Karin.
“So many people were praying and sending good energy and love and we really felt that. It really carried us. It felt like we were being supported by angels’ wings.”