Elissa Antonio can sit up, stand, lift both her feet and maneuver herself into a wheelchair.
It’s an accomplishment just five weeks after the Toronto woman fell 40 feet off a cliff in the dark while foraging wood for a family bonfire while on vacation in her native Trinidad.
She broke her pelvis, her right sacrum and fractured her right leg. Her right heel was so broken, her foot was twisted around 180 degrees.
Antonio, 40, languished in a Trinidadian hospital for 14 days, no doctor able to perform the needed surgeries. The hospital’s CT scanner didn’t work.
Antonio had travelled home to visit her parents, as she always had, without travel insurance.
Aubrey Clarke, a friend, launched a GoFundMe page, which raised more than $60,000 in seven days to transport Antonio home last month on a medical airlift.
Antonio was rushed to a Toronto hospital where she underwent a 10-hour surgery to repair her pelvis, right sacrum, and right leg. The following day, a surgeon had to re-break her heel before surgically repairing it.
The mother of two teenage daughters spoke with reporters Wednesday, May 4 at a media availability in the lush gardens of St. John’s Rehab on Cummer Avenue in North York, where she is recovering. Birds singing and water babbling in a nearby fountain were the only other sounds to be heard.
“The support has been overwhelming,” Antonio said, seated in a wheelchair, her right leg in a cast. “Every time I got an email from Aubrey, my sister, strangers saying ‘keep your head up’ or sharing that they’d never had travel insurance… There are no words to thank everyone who donated, supported me, who said and who continue to say prayers.”
Her ordeal is a cautionary tale on the importance of travel insurance.
“I’ve learned my lesson. I think I’ve overlearned my lesson,” Antonio said, noting she “buys an airline ticket and I’m gone.” Never, until now, had she given travel insurance a thought.
“When looking at travel insurance, or any insurance, make sure to check what’s in it, like if a medical airlift is covered.”
Five weeks later, Antonio said she has pain that runs down her back to her toes, keeping her up at night. She sometimes sleeps during the day.
“I feel great,” she said. “I’ve accomplished so much in so little time. Nobody expected me to get this far this fast.”
Currently, Antonio is undergoing occupational therapy to strengthen her upper body, and physiotherapy to retrain her muscles in her leg. Doctors told her she must stay off her right leg for 12 weeks.
Doctors believe she will walk again.
Antonio’s recovery is expected to take up to a year. During that time, she cannot work. She has no short-term or long-term disability through her employer.
The GoFundMe campaign remains open to assist Antonio with living expenses during her recovery.
Visit www.gofundme/helpingelissa to donate. Donors may contact Clarke on the GoFundMe page to request a charitable tax receipt.
“It will be a long road to recovery. We want her not to have to worry about her finances,” Clarke said of the ongoing GoFundMe campaign. “We don’t want her to be stressed. We’re not trying to raise a million dollars. We just want her not to worry about how she’ll pay her rent or make her car payment.”
Clarke said he is thrilled by his friend’s recovery.
“Every time I walk into her room and see her sitting up, I yell, ‘Yeah.’ Compare seeing her laying in that hospital bed in Trinidad to now? What a difference proper medical care makes.”
Antonio recalled for reporters the moments before and after she fell.
“I kept on walking. I couldn’t see exactly where I was going. I used my phone to help me see. Basically, I just walked off the cliff,” Antonio recalled.
“I had the thought, ‘hang on to something.’ But there was nothing.”
Incredibly, she landed on the beach atop a large piece of foam someone had left there. A sea of rocks surrounded her.
“When I fell, I knew something was wrong because I was in so much pain. I was listening to everyone around me talking, saying she’s not able to move her right leg.”
Antonio said she prayed to God for strength as she writhed in anguished pain in a Trinidadian hospital, often choosing to go without pain medication for days.
“I have a lot of faith in God,” Antonio said. “In Trinidad, the medicine they gave me gave me muscle spasms. It made the pain worse. So most of the time, I didn’t take it. I had to ask God to take the pain from me. Without that, I would have died.”
An outdoors lover, Antonio said she is eager to recover and to return to activities with her daughters.
“I’m very grateful. It’s great being home,” she said. “I still have support of my family and friends. I get to see my kids. All I can think of is getting on my feet again to take my kids on road trips.”