Suzanne Parent had emergency surgery on her back in 2017 after an incident on her pull-up bar.

Thunder Bay fitness coach ‘takes her body back’ after tragic accident

Two years ago, Suzanne Parent had no idea she was in the fight of her life.

After a terrifying accident that left the 55-year-old fitness coach with a broken bone in her back, she said an Ottawa hospital sent her home that day with pain medication. Subsequent treatment two weeks later revealed she needed emergency surgery to fuse her bones back together.

She has since made a full recovery, but is sharing her story with Most of Us, in the hope that no one else has to suffer a similar ordeal.

In June 2017, Parent decided to do a morning workout in her house before she drove her son to the airport.

It wasn’t until she moved onto doing pull-ups that things took a turn. The metal bar attached to her door, broke from its frame six feet above ground, and sent her falling onto the cold ceramic floor.

“Once I fell, I knew I needed help right away,” Parent said. “I could not move. I was in such agony.”

Her son Patrick McVarnock, who she calls her hero, found her shortly after the incident happened.

“It was a very abrupt wakeup call, hearing her screams from the bathroom…She had blood on her nose from the bar falling on her face and couldn’t move. The main thing for me was to keep calm and keep her calm and comfortable,” he said.

McVarnock called 911 and moments later, two paramedics were there to serve them.

“They carried me safely down the 40 steps in my condo to the ground level in a stretcher to the ambulance vehicle,” Parent said.

Patrick McVarnock found his mother, Suzanne Parent, after her accident and called 911.

Parent, who lived in Ottawa at the time of the accident, described her ambulance ride to Montfort Hospital being “long and painful,” caught up in morning traffic, as her son followed closely behind.

“My entire body was shaking and cold,” she said. “Yves [one of the paramedics] offered me a blanket… He also turned down the AC, although I could see how warm he was by the sweat on his forehead.”

Parent spent 10 hours in Montfort Hospital where she waited to be sent for X-rays. The results showed she fractured her L1 vertebrae, the first bone in her spine between the rib cage and her pelvis. Her nose was also broken from the chin-up bar falling on her face.

An X-ray revealed a vertebrae in Parent’s was fractured.

After giving her medication for her pain, the hospital staff discharged her that evening and said she should reach out to her family doctor to get a note for medical leave to give to her employer.

When she went to her family physician to obtain a note, Parent’s doctor sent her for a CT scan. She went for the test two weeks after her incident and it showed that her spine had deteriorated since the accident. Her vertebral fracture fragment was displaced into the spinal canal, potentially causing a spinal cord injury.

“My doctor told me over the phone ‘one bad move and you could paralyze, Suzanne,’” she said.

Parent needed an urgent operation on her back to remove a bony fragment in her spine and fuse her broken bones together.

At the Ottawa Civic Hospital, she spent 11 days doing a number of tests before being sent home.

Parent described her road to recovery having many low points, but says she knew she had to take her body back.

“I worked really hard to do everything in my power to get out of bed everyday,” she said.  “My faith and my beliefs in God are very strong. Of course, it was very painful and I had tears in my eyes throughout the entire ordeal, but I never once let myself believe that I was never going to walk again.”

According to Ottawa physician Dr. Lucille Poisson, the average time to recover from the type of fracture Suzanne had ranges anywhere from two to six months, but because Parent was older when the accident happened, Poisson said this factor would significantly delay her recovery.

“Given the nature of the unstable fracture requiring fusion, it would be truly remarkable that Suzanne would be able to make a complete pain-free recovery,” she said.”

Parent stayed committed to recovery and wore a full body brace for more than three months from. She said she started workouts in the pool, just to try to get her body moving.

Parent wore a body brace for three months while she healed.

Months later, Parent said there were a number of events surrounding her personal care at Montfort, which left her uneasy. She said she wanted to inform the hospital staff of certain steps they could take to improve its urgent care facility.

She said the hospital’s head of emergency, head of the patient care unit, and CEO agreed to meet with her.

Parent said she brought forward seven recommendations to the hospital, ranging from the fact that ambulatory care personnel should not put patients on a hard surface, assuming that the patient will go to X-ray within 30 minutes of arriving at the hospital, to allowing nurses to administer pain medication for relief before being seen by a doctor. She also stressed the importance of the emergency physician revisiting the patient before they are released.

She said the staff were in agreement with her points and said they told her they would incorporate it into their emergency care training.

“I hope with all my heart that they have proceeded with my recommendations. I believe positive changes occur when we show courage in the midst of our storms,” she added. 

When contacted to ask if Parent’s recommendations had been adopted, a Montfort Hospital spokesman said he could not comment due to confidentiality reasons.

“It is the hospital’s practice to ensure our patients get the help they need, when they need it. The safety and well-being of our patients is our priority,” said Martin Sauvé, a Montfort Hospital communication advisor.

The first day Parent went without a body brace in 2017 was also the day she began fitness coaching again.

Since her accident, Parent moved to Thunder Bay to be closer to her son, and now works at a gym called Movati Athletic. She said the accident has given her a new perspective, allowing her to have more compassion and empathy for her clients who deal with pain and struggle to reach new goals.

“People come from all kinds of injuries. When clients come to me and it seems they have given up on any hope, I like to share a bit of my story,” she said.  “Our bodies are amazing machines… If you tell it that you’re going to heal, you can do it.”