Photo of 2017 Gert Vorsteher Memorial Award winners (left to right): Bonnie Zhu, James McLeod, William McCreight, Kris Harrison and Lindsay O’Connell.
The annual event recognizes individuals who, in the face of life-changing injuries, have shown remarkable determination and pursued their rehabilitation goals to regain personal independence. Named for Gert Vorsteher, who bequeathed funding in gratitude for the care he received at GF Strong, each award includes a $5,000 bursary.
On May 17, the GF Strong gymnasium was bursting with client family and friends, GFS staff, and the BC Rehab team to celebrate seven GF Strong clients honoured with a 2017 Gert Vorsteher Memorial Award.
Here are two of their stories.
Photo (left to right): Natalia Chambers, physiotherapist, AYA Program, GF Strong; Bonnie Zhu, GV Memorial Award winner; David Doig, BC Rehab Board member; and Dr. Jennifer Yao, GF Strong medical site lead.
Bonnie Zhu was 14 when a car accident in China changed her life. A spinal cord injury left her unable to move and the medical team that evaluated her gave her family little reason to hope. Bonnie’s father took over as her therapist and, under his guidance, she learned to stand and even take a few steps.
“The staff taught me to be independent: how to shower; go to the bathroom; use a wheelchair,” she says. “Over time, I learned to stand properly and balance.”
Bonnie’s perfectionist nature took over and she was determined that anything she did she was going to do well. Today, she still uses a wheelchair when she’s outdoors. However, at home and in the gym, she uses a walker. She is currently in her second year at Langara and plans to study pharmaceutical science at UBC. Her dream — and one that she’ll use some of her bursary money for — is to learn to drive.
“I am grateful to the team at GF Strong for helping and encouraging me,” says Bonnie. “Without them, I wouldn’t be able to walk or be independent.”
Photo (left to right): David Doig, BC Rehab Board member; William McCreight, GV Memorial Award winner; Nigel Kam, occupational therapist, Gillian Coates, physiotherapist, both of GF Strong.
William McCreight’s life was also turned upside down by a car crash. He broke his neck, giving him a C6-7 incomplete spinal cord injury that left him a quadriplegic. William spent two months in ICU at Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops before being transferred to GF Strong in March 2016.
“My first week there, I was feeling nervous and hardly left my room. But I soon got over that. I became the guy who welcomes newcomers and shows them around, who makes you realize you’re not alone. Others did that for me and I felt the need to take their place after they moved on.”
William credits his occupational and physio therapists for his remarkable rehabilitation. Originally told he would always require 24/7 care, never breathe on his own or feed himself, William has regained use of his arms and often as not uses a manual wheelchair. His home in Kamloops has been adapted to make it accessible and he lives on his own. He dreams of driving once again and hopes to return to school and then go back to work.
“GF Strong was a lifesaver for me,” he says. “I can’t think where I’d be now without that experience. Everyone who works there wears their heart on their sleeve.”
The GFS team congratulates all 2017 GV Memorial Award recipients:
- Shannon Elmer
- Kris Harrison
- William McCreight
- James Mcleod
- Lindsay O’Connell
- James Ryan
- Bonnie Zhu