By Alyce Collins
A HORRIFIC snowboarding accident left this woman THROWING UP BLOOD and doctors stumped when scans revealed she had somehow torn her PANCREAS IN TWO, but now she proudly shows off her surgery scar to encourage others to embrace their flaws.
Brand coordinator, Sophie Gillett (34) from Vancouver, Canada, was a keen snowboarder since the age of 15, even living in Whistler for four years during her twenties so she could snowboard five times a week.
In December 2014, Sophie and her boyfriend at the time, Farren, were driving out of Vancouver to the mountains in Whistler so they could go snowboarding. They noted how little snow covered the mountains and how poor the terrain was, before finding a less crowded area they wanted to ride down.
Despite the lack of snow guiding her path, Sophie was snowboarding down when she collided with a protruding rock which launched her forwards onto hard-packed snow and ice. The forceful impact caused Sophie’s pancreas to split in half.
Sophie, who was left in agony by the fall, was assessed by ski patrol on the spot who saw nothing wrong with her, but if she wanted further assessment, she either had to walk to the chair lift, or wait two hours for more ski patrol staff. Sophie opted to walk the two miles to the chair lift, unaware that her pancreas was split in two.
After other members of the ski patrol at the ticket office refused to see her, Sophie returned home. A few hours later she began suffering with abdominal pain and throwing up blood, by which point Farren took her to the hospital.
Eventually, scans showed the extent of Sophie’s injuries and she was immediately sent for emergency trauma surgery for what they deemed a ‘freak accident’. It took months for Sophie to cope with the five-inch scar in her abdomen, but now she regularly gives updates on her scar as a reminder that beauty is diverse, enabling her to reach other trauma survivors.
“December 13, 2014 is the day it happened, and I always found this date odd as the numbers are 12-13-14,” said Sophie.
“I was passionate about snowboarding and I lived in Whistler for four years and fell in love with the sport. I then moved down to Vancouver to pursue a career in snowboard distribution.
“Farren had just driven out to visit me for the holidays and back then, going up to the mountains to ride was our passion. So, on December 13 we travelled to Whistler and went for our first run.
“When we got to the area we initially wanted to ride on, it was heavily crowded, so we took a detour to find somewhere else.
“As I had lived in Whistler for years, I knew the mountain terrain quite well. That day the snow was barely even half way up the mountain, with large rocks protruding everywhere.
“The actual run I was hurt on even had a flowing stream as it wasn’t cold enough and there wasn’t enough snow. The mountain itself was in horrible condition and to this day I believe it shouldn’t have been open.
“I was riding and then suddenly I hit a protruding rock which launched me onto hard-packed snow and ice, and on impact doctors say it split my pancreas in two parts.
“I was the first to go down the run and I remember seeing the large rock. I remember hitting the rock and then being in the air before hitting the ice and it knocking the wind out of me. Something felt instantly weird inside.
“After the impact, my friend went to get ski patrol while my boyfriend stayed with me. But they said there was nothing wrong with me and gave me two options – wait for more ski patrol to come and help me down, which could take two hours, or walk.
“So, I walked over two miles to the nearest chair lift, since at the time I was unaware my pancreas was split in two parts. Once down, I told them I was hurt and asked to see ski patrol again but was denied.
“So, we went back to my friend’s house where we were staying and then I started having intense abdominal pain and went into the bathroom to throw up blood. As soon as that happened Farren took me straight to the medical centre.
“I spent hours in excruciating pain, yelling and screaming for someone to help me and figure out what was wrong. I had multiple MRIs and a CT scan which showed my pancreas had been damaged. I was then told I needed to go to Vancouver to get emergency surgery.
“I honestly thought I was going in and would be out the next day. I was an emotional wreck and I cried endlessly at first. It was very hard to process everything and the seriousness I faced of almost losing my life.”
Sophie’s bizarre accident was a shock to much of the hospital staff who couldn’t understand how her pancreas was so severely damaged.
Despite the dangers of her injury, Sophie was up and walking the day after her emergency surgery, much to the surprise of the doctors.
“I was classed as a ‘freak accident’, doctors asked me over and over to explain how I fell as they were stumped on how I hurt my pancreas falling forward,” said Sophie.
“Essentially I should have hurt my stomach or spleen as they come before your pancreas. I had student doctors and nurses visiting me to hear my story.
“My insides had all been moved around in order to get far back enough to reach my pancreas. Then they removed the tail and hoped my digestive system would still work.
“Eating was a daily battle though. I would get some food down, but then it wouldn’t sit due to the pain killers I was on making me feel nauseous, plus my digestive system wasn’t yet ready to process food. When I vomited, it hurt as my abdomen would convulse, and I had a fresh five-inch scar and staples.
“Even in the hospital I shocked doctors by asking to walk the day after my surgery. I knew moving my body would help me recover and save me mentally.
“When I was home, I started doing light exercises including lunges in the hall, sitting squats on a chair or holding a plank for five seconds. I went out on walks because fresh air never felt fresher once you spend time in hospital, and walking promotes circulation which helps heal and recover.
“At first I would cry every time I got out of the shower and looked at my broken body in the mirror. But something in me told me I needed to still be me. So, I continued to wear things like crop tops or bikinis at the beach.
“I would get stares and questions about what happened, and some people thought I was doing it for attention, but it’s just a part of me and I needed to accept it.
“Finding others was also huge motivation for starting my Instagram account, which has connected me with dozens of girls with similar scars and surgeries. It still bugs me now and then, but I see it as strength for what I overcame.
“I want to share more diverse forms of beauty and encourage more self-love. We need more help for post trauma surgery patients as I feel this is a topic that isn’t talked about enough.”
You can see more of Sophie’s recovery journey by visiting @surgery2strong.