Kelda Farrell’s life changed in an instant when a near-fatal car accident rendered her unable to move any part of her body except her eyes.
Now, a group of her former co-workers is trying to raise money for equipment that will help Farrell regain control of her body and her life.
In June 2012, Farrell, who is in her 30s, was a temporary employee of Husky Energy when she and her husband were involved in a serious car accident near St. John’s.
They had been married the year before.
Loss of muscular control
Her husband was unharmed, but Farrell suffered severe injury to the pons in her brain, causing a condition known as locked-in syndrome. Although her mind is still fully functioning, she is unable to control any part of her body except her eyes.
“Since Day 1 I’ve been trying to figure out what can we do to make her life better,” said Krista Gates-Guy, Farrell’s friend and former co-worker.
“I’m always trying to figure out a way to brighten her day because I know she has a struggle every day with trying to reprogram her body. I feel like I can see her making a really awesome recovery, it’s just a matter of figuring out the way to help her do this.”
Since the accident, Farrell has been slowly working to get better. She spent time at a rehabilitation facility in Fredericton, where she worked extensively with a “Stim bike”— a piece of equipment that uses functional electrical stimulation to activate muscles in the upper body. The bike-like system has electrodes attached to certain muscles, causing them to contract and move with the equipment. Through the therapy, Kelda has been able to regain some muscular control.
“Anyone who’s been away from her can see huge improvements, and a lot of that has been because of this functional electrical stimulation therapy,” said Gates-Guy.
“I know that when she started using that, it seemed like it really started to take off for her.”
However, Farrell had to stop the program when she moved back to St. John’s to be closer to her family. Because there is no equipment of this kind available in the province, Gates-Guy and several other Husky employees are trying to raise $25,000 to purchase one.
In June, Husky employees put off a fundraiser at Martini Bar, and last week, Husky’s offshore workers “paid for their dinner” and donated the proceeds. On Tuesday, employees launched a crowd-funding page on FundRazr.
Since the page was launched a few days ago, it has garnered a tremendous response. Within the first few hours it brought in over $2,000 and as of publication, the page has raised close to $8,000.
“I stopped in and told Kelda we launched a fundraising page and she kind of smiled, and then I showed her the amount and her eyes went so wide with surprise,” said Gates-Guy.
“ She is beyond grateful. I keep telling her that she doesn’t realize how special of a person she is. I know it’s because she’s made such an impact on so many people just by being Kelda. She’s just such a sweet person, incredibly intelligent. She’s one of those people you just like having around. She just has this effect on people. And I think everybody just wants to see her bounce back and everybody wants to do what they can do to help her find a path to help her recover.”
A former runner, Farrell is currently at the Miller Centre, but her family is building a wheelchair-accessible home that she hopes to move into in the fall. Although she cannot speak, she can now communicate by mouthing words as well as using a computer program to spell out messages by clicking a mouse.
Gates-Guy says that while Farrell is definitely improving, having to reprogram her entire body is frustrating at best.
“Sometimes her body and brain connect a little bit better, but some days it’s a bit more difficult for her,” said Gates-Guy.
“I’ve seen a big difference, but sometimes I think she doesn’t feel like it’s enough improvement.”
Gates-Guy met Farrell when she came to work at Husky, six months before her accident. The two shared an office and quickly became friends.
“Although I didn’t know her for very long, she really made an impact on me,” said Gates-Guy. “I looked up to her like I would a big sister.”
For several months after Farrell’s accident, only close friends and family were able to see her. Desperate to keep in contact, Gates-Guy began writing her letters, telling her funny stories and keeping her informed of the goings-on at work. Gates-Guy visited Farrell several times while she was in New Brunswick, where she says physiotherapists were astounded by the strides Farrell was making in recovery.
“The kind of injury she has, most people don’t survive, because that part of the brain is what controls your major functions like your breathing and heart,” she said. “When I was visiting her at the facility in New Brunswick, there were so many times when her therapist was like, ‘Kelda, where did that come from? How did you do that?’ She used to be amazing them all the time. “
Although it is unclear how much bodily control Farrell will regain, Gates-Guy is confident that with the right support, her friend has an optimistic future.
“I think they really don’t know where she’s going, but from what I’ve seen of her, and what I know of her, being so determined, I feel like if she’s given the right technology that she will, at some point, make an excellent recovery. It’s just finding the means to make that stuff available to her.”
Donations can be made at http://fundrazr.com/campaigns/0neKc