How a near-fatal skiing accident tested Fei Fan’s mental strength and redefined her life

How a near-fatal skiing accident tested Fei Fan’s mental strength and redefined her life

“We have to take it easy today,” said 32-year-old Fei Fan after seeing patches of ice on a routine day of skiing. She had taken hundreds of ski trips and knew running in Big Bear like the back of her hand, but Feb. 13, 2022, was a sunny, 80-degree day, turning the snowy mountain to ice and leaving Van with a severe pelvic injury. .

“I remember going down and seeing the nets at the cliff and thinking, ‘Oh my God, I can’t stop,’” Van said. “I saw the barriers, the edge and the trees and I said to myself: This is Faye.”

It takes an experienced snow athlete to recognize dangerous spots and icy trails; Van did but incredibly fast and unable to slow down, she was launched off the side of the mountain during a warm-up on a green-rated beginner slope. There was a fork in the road, so she chose to take one path because it seemed less affected.

“They say your life flashes before your eyes during near-death experiences, and that’s 100 percent what happens,” she said. “I thought about my fiancé and my family and my friends and I thought ‘I’ve had a good life.’ You did your best. Then I fainted.”

A few minutes later, Van regained consciousness as her fiancé tried to carry her by her armpits while screaming for help from those on the ski lift above.

“There was a lot of pain, and then I had the thought, ‘Oh my God, it worked!’” she said.

Paramedics carried Van’s body out of the valley and placed it on a stretcher. The local hospital assessed her injuries and ordered a helicopter to airlift Fan to Loma Linda University Health.

“The second we landed on the helipad, there were about 15 people doing what they needed to do, and I immediately felt reassured that these people were going to take care of me,” Phan said.

As a Level I trauma center, many specialties come together to perform an assessment upon arrival to understand the severity of polytrauma injuries like Vann’s. Multiple specialist teams were recruited to treat Van’s injuries, which included a lacerated kidney and lung and a broken jaw. Orthopedic traumatologist Brian A. Schneiderman managed multiple fractures around her pelvis and left acetabulum. This included injury to the pelvic ring due to vertical shear, a serious and rare type of fracture that accounts for less than 1% of all fractures.

While Fan felt defeated that she might never walk again, Schneiderman was committed to getting Fan back to her job.

Head, chest, and abdominal injuries are life-threatening injuries often seen in the emergency department. There are a few life-threatening orthopedic injuries, but Faye’s pelvic ring fracture was one of them, Schneiderman said.

“He saved my life,” Van said. “He was very human, treated me with a level of mutual respect, and was everything I needed logistically and emotionally through this.”

Because of the combination of her injuries, he had to perform several open exposures of the back of her pelvis, techniques Schneiderman says he only performs in 1 to 2 percent of such cases. A total of three metal plates and several screws were used to stabilize the van sink, including 150-mm screws through small subradiographic incisions.

“The hardest part of an injury is the rehabilitation because the patient has to live it every day. Faye has fully embraced her recovery. “Her own injuries were very difficult, but the outcome she was able to achieve is a direct result of her strength, resilience and determination,” Schneiderman said. “No matter what he did,” Schneiderman said. Our team, she deserves all the appreciation.”

After 24 days in the hospital, Fan returned home to Orange County where she began physical therapy at home. The movements started very small and were slowly combined into functional movements. As an athlete, her inability to move the way she once did increased frustration, forcing Van to become mentally strong while regaining her physical strength.

“My family was in the hospital every day, and every second they were allowed to be there,” Fan said. “When I was learning to walk, it was one step for me, one step for them.”

Phan is now a certified Pilates instructor specializing in prehab and rehabilitation. With good days and bad days, move with intention and strive to experience life as much as possible. Since her recovery, Phan has completed a half marathon, climbed the Grand Canyon, and traveled to Europe and Asia. She hopes to skate again just to get over the fear and prove to herself that she’s still capable.

“Time is precious. Health is precious,” Fan said. “The accident was terrible, but it gave me a very beautiful perspective on life. To my family, Dr. Schneiderman, and I, we did it!

Loma Linda University Osteopathic Health providers offer a range of treatments to get you back to living a healthy, active life. Learn more about the services provided, here.

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