Lacey Quilty smiles as she opens the door to her home. Dressed neatly in a white blouse and black mini-skirt, she hurries to put out some burning incense and turn off the TV before inviting you to have a seat.
Her apartment is immaculate and stylish, like herself, and she smiles as she talks about her parents, her boyfriend and her studies in Keyin College’s occupational health and safety diploma program.
For a 23-year-old student, Quilty seems to have her life well put-together. But four months ago, she was in hospital in a coma, and her loved ones weren’t sure she’d have a life after that at all.
The night of June 1, Quilty’s boyfriend, Dustin, finished work and came to pick her up. Driving to a party at the home of a family friend, the couple was on the Outer Ring Road, between Topsail Road and Thorburn Road, when they hit a moose that had run onto the highway.
Quilty doesn’t remember the accident, but knows what she’s been told by doctors and the police.
“Apparently I was up and walking around, and the paramedics had to subdue me to put me on the board with a neck collar,” she says.
“I know from Dustin’s typical driving demeanor that he wasn’t speeding and alchohol wasn’t a factor.”
Dustin’s car was totalled. The moose landed on the hood and was thrown onto the roof of the vehicle, peeling back the metal like a can opener and leaving the car looking like a convertible.
At the hospital, Lacey was given an emergency CT scan, which showed her brain was bleeding in two spots. She also had a fractured T3 vertebrae.
She was put into a medically-induced coma, and her parents were called. They made the drive from Highlands, southwest of Stephenville, to St. John’s overnight, seeing two moose on the highway.
While in the coma, intubated with an oxygen tube, Lacey developed a serious infection in her airway.
“They called my parents in and allowed them to stay overnight, because they didn’t know how my body would react to the treatment,” she explains.
“They wanted to let them stay in case things did get worse.”
Eventually, her breathing improved and doctors brought her out of the coma. She remembers waking up in a panic, pulling at her oxygen tube, not knowing where she was or how she got there.
Her memory stops about two days before the accident, she says. Nurses explained to her what had happened, and that she’d been unconscious for almost two weeks.
“I was just anxious, and I felt lucky to be alive,” Lacey says.
“The fractured vertebrae is probably where my luck showed itself the most, because the doctor told me if it had been a complete break, I would have either died or become a quadrapelegic.
“I had never been in an accident before. Once I knew what we had been through, I wanted to see Dustin. I’m so thankful for him.”
Dustin — who had been released from hospital after being treated for a concussion and various cuts and bruises — hadn’t met Lacey’s parents before the accident, but had been getting to know them at her bedside, while Lacey was unconscious.
Though their relationship was under stress for a while after the accident, they’ve come through it with a new outlook on life. So have Lacey’s parents, she says, who still think about how close they came to losing their daughter.
The worst part of Lacey’s recovery is over. She still gets headaches and dizzy spells and finds she tires easily, but she’s back at school and doing a workterm with Easter Seals.
The week of the accident, she missed five final exams — when she got around to writing them, she earned marks in the 80s and 90s. She’s had follow-up CT scans which have shown the bleeding on her brain has receded, and she’ll soon begin treatment with athe province’s neuropsychiatrist.
She says she has no anxiety getting behind the wheel, which she credits to her lack of memory of the accident. The first time she drove past the site of the accident was difficult, all the same.
“I told myself, if I have to pull over and cry, I’ll do it,” she says. “I was a bit emotional, but I was OK.
“I realize it could have just as easily been my body they had to scrape off the highway as the moose.”
Surprisingly, she says, she and Dustin received a bill for $150 to cover the removal of the moose from the road.
“I’m a bayman,” she says, laughing. “If I had known that, I would have eaten the darn thing.”
Lacey hopes to get her moose license next year — but not for revenge.
“I’m a person that will use it for food, but it will be one less moose to walk out in front of cars on the road,” she says.
“I don’t know what I ever did to deserve a second chance, but it’s made what’s important a little more clear. It’s made me value things more.”