SKI HELMET: An eastern Ontario woman credits a helmet with saving her life in a life-changing skiing accident
Mackenzie Baxby is back doing what she loves: downhill skiing.
“I find that being in the mountains, you can forget about everything going on in the real world and focus on the fun of the sport,” she said.
But returning to the sport is an incredible accomplishment, considering the 27-year-old from eastern Ontario suffered a life-changing skiing accident in January 2023, leaving many wondering if she’ll ever be able to walk again.
The accident occurred on a ski hill in Rigaud, near Montreal. It was Baxby, her father and her fiancé at the end of the night.
“We said, ‘What the heck, let’s just race.’ “I came around the hill really fast, there were some people, I tried to go around them and unfortunately I fell, hit a piece of ice and fell flat on my back,” Baxby said.
She says she tried to regain control, but hit her head on a tree.
“From that moment on, I instantly lost all feeling in my body from my neck to my toes. The only way I can describe it is pins and needles but a thousand times more,” she said.
The ski patrol came immediately and paramedics took her to a Montreal hospital. Baxby fractured her vertebrae in 11 places, her spine was compressed, several ribs were broken, and she suffered a mild concussion.
Baxby credits her helmet with saving her life that night. She’s sharing her story so others know how important protection is.
“My helmet saved me without question,” she said. “I was wearing a helmet the night of my accident, and my surgical team in Montreal said, ‘You’re so lucky you were wearing your helmet that night.'”
“I’ve had some serious injuries when I was wearing a helmet, and if I didn’t have a helmet, things could have been a lot worse. I probably wouldn’t be here.”
After emergency spinal surgery, Baxby was paralyzed for more than a month. Baxby also spent time at the Ottawa Civic Hospital campus and the Ottawa General Hospital Rehabilitation Centre.
“My main message is yes, skiing is a lot of fun to get out on the weekends, it’s a great winter activity, but protect yourselves, be aware of your surroundings and wear your helmet because it saved my life,” she said.
After extensive treatment, Baxby defied the odds and within a few months took her first steps.
“I took that first step and I was so happy. I knew from there that I would be OK, if I just kept working at it every day.”
Three weeks ago, less than 13 months after her accident, Mackenzie returned to skiing at Camp Fortune with her father.
“Mackenzie Baxby is back on the slopes after a life-changing accident one year ago. (Mackenzie Baxby)“The first time I came here after my accident, it was a whirlwind of emotions, nervousness and excitement,” she said.
“When you sit and think about what you’ve been through, it’s more emotional. I just think about the good times, how much fun they bring me, they bring me happiness.”
She wants others to not be afraid to get back to doing what they love, despite great adversity.
“Don’t be afraid to come back and do something you love so much. It doesn’t have to be skating, it can be any sport or activity. Don’t be afraid, you know what you’re doing.”
Baxby still has to do physical therapy and a lot of strength work at home. She has returned to work as a nurse and is looking forward to getting married in September.
“Two months before my accident, I got engaged,” she says.
“My main focus the night of my accident was that I wanted to walk down the aisle. That was without a doubt, I was going to walk. In September we’re getting married and I’m going to run down the aisle.”