British Columbia

From paralysis to performing: concert showcases B.C. musician after car crash

After a serious car crash, B.C. musician Kristina Shelden beat paralysis and learned to play music again.

Kristina Shelden thought she would never play music again

Vancouver musician Kristina Shelden will be playing a concert at the Cultch on Thursday, March 8. (Maya Pankalla)

Kristina Shelden knew she wanted to be a professional singer ever since she first watched The Little Mermaid as a child.

The Vancouver-based singer-songwriter will be playing with two other performers during the pop and soul concert, Luminescence: Chanteuse to the Power of Three on Thursday, March 8 at the Cultch in East Vancouver.

But Shelden's upcoming concert, her upcoming album, and her recent musical success almost never materialized because in 2008 she was injured in a serious car crash, leaving her unable to play the guitar.

Shelden was on her way to Kelowna, B.C., when her car drifted off the road and flipped over. She was partially ejected and the seat belt wrapped around her neck. 

"The seat belt locked and broke my neck," Shelden told North by Northwest host Sheryl McKay.

Shelden was taken to hospital for surgery. She had suffered a C4/C5 spinal cord injury and was paralyzed with only slight movement of her right arm.

Slow recovery

She was told there was only a 10 per cent chance she would walk again and credits friends and family for saving her from extreme depression.

"I was phenomenally lucky that I have friends and family in Vancouver. I'm a Vancouverite, born and raised, so we're all here." 

After 12 weeks of hard physiotherapy and listening to music, Shelden limped out of the GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver, having recovered the use of her arms and legs.

"You would be surprised what you're capable of when you have to do it," she said.

In the three years after her crash, Shelden had to turn down offers for paid music work. She still has severe nerve damage in her left hand which keeps her from playing guitar. But she can walk and use her arms.

"I still occasionally pick up my guitar and start crying. It was such a huge part of who I was before."

Shelden started working with the Vancouver Adapted Music Society, where she met other musicians with disabilities, and gradually learned to produce music despite her limitations.

She focused on singing and writing songs, and discovered she could still play the ukulele and the piano, though not as well as she could before her crash.

The March 8 concert will celebrate International Woman's Day, and the artists performing with Shelden also suffer from physical disabilities.

With files from North by Northwest