Nfld. & Labrador

The trailer truck came swinging at them like a bat, and somehow they survived

Sometimes, it takes is a split-second for a life to turn upside down. For Jenny Wright and her daughter, it happened on the Southern Shore Highway.

Jenny Wright doesn't feel lucky to have survived a disastrous collision, but she is certainly grateful

Jenny Wright is still recovering from traumatic injuries sustained in a crash in early January. (Submitted by Jenny Wright)

Don't tell Jenny Wright she's lucky to be alive. The cliché has become her social refrain.

"Everybody I know has said to me, 'you're so lucky,'" said Wright, a prominent activist in Newfoundland and Labrador politics, and a driving force in the province's women's movement. 

She doesn't feel lucky. What she does feel is excruciating pain.

Weeks after a stunning crash, she is traumatized. She is now dependent on everyone for everything. She is confined to a power recliner that doubles as her bed.

It is placed by the window, overlooking the bay in Kingman's Cove, 93 kilometres south of St. John's. 

For Wright, being told she's lucky feels like a slight on her suffering.  

"As my husband says, lucky is winning the lottery, not getting hit by a transport truck."

Plans changed in an instant

On Jan. 2, Wright almost died.

She and her 27-year-old daughter, Shelby, along with their 90-pound dog, Charlie, were driving to St. John's along the Southern Shore Highway. 

Wright is still immobile and spends all day and night in an electric recliner. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

Wright was looking forward to going back to work at the St. John's Status of Women Council after the holiday break. Shelby was heading back to class at Memorial University. 

All those plans changed in an instant.

The trailer of the transport truck driving toward them started swerving in the slush.

"I looked at my daughter and said, 'My goodness, that truck is fishtailing,' and within a split second that truck jackknifed and the trailer came around," said Wright.

The trailer swung at them like a bat about to hit a baseball. 

The animation above shows what Wright and her daughter encountered. 

Trapped and twisted 

As soon as Wright realized what was about to happen, instinct — a mother's instinct — took over. 

"I thought that was it," said Wright. "But I had this moment, I wanted to put some distance between [the trailer] and my daughter, and so I cranked the wheel, and hit the gas to go right."

The driver's side took the brunt of the impact. Shelby's knee was shattered. Charlie, the dog, was unhurt — he bolted into the woods, and was found hours later. 

But Wright was trapped and twisted in the crushing grip of warped metal and plastic. 

Wright's daughter, Shelby Wright (right) shattered her knee in the crash. Wright's husband, Trevor Elliott (bottom left) and son, Seth Graham, stayed by her side in hospital. (Submitted by Jenny Wright)

"I knew I was not in good shape," she said. 

"I was pressed against the steering wheel, and I was having trouble breathing, and they were having trouble getting me out." 

It took firefighters from the Ferryland Fire Department two hours to pry Wright from the vehicle using the Jaws of Life.

In shock, Wright was unaware of her injuries. The pain was waiting for its moment to pounce. 

She broke both her upper arms, her wrist and her fingers. She needed surgery to repair the bones with titanium plates and bolts. Her left ankle snapped. Two ribs cracked, and her sternum was badly beaten.

"It's scary to suddenly be incapable," said Wright. 

"It's life changing. I don't think I've ever been this dependent on others, or this vulnerable."

'I couldn't do anything'

Wright is a fierce feminist, a vocal activist, a champion of women's rights, publicly battling violence against women, and loudly criticizing government for not doing its part.

Wright doesn't do vulnerable.

It took two hours for rescue personnel to remove Wright from the vehicle using the Jaws of Life. (Submitted by Jenny Wright)

"I couldn't sit up, I couldn't go to the bathroom on my own, I couldn't eat, I couldn't do anything." 

I don't think it's luck, but I'm grateful for the series of events that happened that probably saved my life- Jenny Wright

She tries not to dwell on the 'what-ifs', on what could have been.

"We lived. And I'm eternally grateful that I didn't have any injuries to my spine, or to my legs, or to my head."  

Lucky or not, she is grateful to be alive.

Jenny Wright on surviving her car accident

4 years ago
0:39
Jenny Wright's car was hit by a jackknifing transport truck and she lived to tell about it. 0:39

"I'm grateful to see Shelby getting better. I'm grateful for every little bit of mobility I get. I was grateful the first time I could brush my teeth. I was grateful the first time I could eat," she said in an interview. 

"I don't think it's luck, but I'm grateful for the series of events that happened that probably saved my life."

A life that's on hold for now, with a year's worth of healing ahead — and a new appreciation for a future she almost didn't have. 

"I think, in the end, it'll make me stronger and more fierce."

Jenny Wright required surgery on both her upper arms and wrist to insert titanium plates and bolts. (Submitted by Jenny Wright)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carolyn Stokes

Journalist

Carolyn Stokes is a reporter with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, and frequently cohosts Here & Now.

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