An emotional Christmas reunion for a crash survivor two years on

by Noted / 18 December, 2018

Two years ago, Joanna Harris was looking forward to the Christmas holidays when her life was turned upside down in a catastrophic collision. This year, she paid a visit to the hospital where she spent months recovering, meeting the people who saved her life.

Joanna Harris was 34 weeks pregnant with her fifth son when a speeding driver lost control of his van while overtaking in the wet. He ploughed head-on into her car on State Highway One between Warkworth and Wellsford on November 25, 2016.

Tragically, her baby, Bo, did not survive. 

With life-threatening injuries, Joanna was airlifted straight to Auckland City Hospital, where she spent 13 weeks being treated and cared for by dedicated surgeons, nurses, anaesthetists, radiologists, physiotherapists and others at Auckland DHB.

On board the flight, a specialist trauma doctor administered a mid-air blood transfusion keeping her alive. Haemorrhaging internally, her chance of survival was less than 50 percent when she arrived at the emergency department.

“I’m so glad my kids weren’t in the car that day. It blew me away when I saw photos of my car, I just asked, ‘How did I get out of that alive?’”

The scene of the crash. Photo/Supplied

The scene of the crash. Photo/Supplied

“I had facial fractures, skull fractures; my right arm was smashed. My liver was shredded. If not for the expertise of all the trauma services, I wouldn’t have stood a chance.”

Joanna was in and out of consciousness for four weeks, undergoing multiple operations to treat her complex injuries, and she feels immense gratitude to her clinicians.

“You feel like you owe them your life. I remember waking up, and I didn’t even know if I had legs,” says Joanna, who has been out of her wheelchair since last Christmas, and walking without a crutch for three months.

“It’s amazing how they fix everything. My arm was virtually unsalvageable, and nobody thought I’d be able to keep it, but here it is,” she says, wiggling her fingers.

This year, Harris returned to the hospital for the first time to see the people who saved her. “I wanted to wait until I could walk through the door,” she says, and that’s exactly what she did, with dad Robert at her side.

Read more: Road toll: Does anyone know how to bring it down?

Harris with some of the staff who helped her recover. Photo/Supplied

Harris with some of the staff who helped her recover. Photo/Supplied

“It was a miracle I survived, and now I’m up and about, and enjoying regaining my independence,” she says. “This time two years ago, I was fighting for my life, and today I am so grateful to be alive for my boys. I want to use my experience to help others get the same incredible care I received.”

Joanna’s other four sons, Connor, Kaelebe, Jacob and Robbie, are grateful to those who saved their mum’s life, and everyone who cared for her at Auckland City Hospital. “I feel really happy that she’s ok,” said 10-year-old Kaelebe. “The doctors gave me my mum back. Without them, she wouldn’t be here.”

joanna harris

Joanna Harris with three of her sons. Photo/Supplied

Auckland DHB Trauma Service Clinical Director Professor Ian Civil, who oversaw Joanna’s treatment, said it can be beneficial for patients like Joanna to re-visit the hospital as part of their recovery.

“Trauma patients often remember very little of their time with us, so coming back can be very surreal, but it often helps to provide some closure on their experience. While Joanna naturally doesn’t remember many of the people who cared for her, particularly in Critical Care, the team remembers her well and we really appreciate her visit,” said Professor Civil.

Harris has come a long way since her crash. As of three months ago, she can now walk without a crutch. Photo/Supplied

Harris has come a long way since her crash. As of three months ago, she can now walk without a crutch. Photo/Supplied

Unlike Joanna, her dad Robert has vivid memories of spending Christmas 2016 in hospital, and supporting his daughter at each stage of her recovery. Speaking to staff, with raw emotion two years on, he said, “Thank you so much for the part you played in bringing our girl back.”

The Auckland Health Foundation, joined Joanna and her father for their reunions at Auckland City Hospital.

“Donations to the Auckland Health Foundation help people like Joanna have the best possible chance of survival, with all funds going towards the foundation’s goal of supporting world-class healthcare for everyone," says the Foundation's CEO Gwen Green.

"Whether you donate to one of our priority projects or a specific DHB department, you decide where your money goes, which might be towards developing world-class simulation training or a life-saving piece of equipment.”

For more information, visit www.aucklandhealthfoundation.org.nz.

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