By Dr. Charles Tator, co-founder of Parachute
When Angela MacDonald asked me to write the forward to her 2022 book, Absolutely I’m Possible, I was thrilled because I love talking about the good things that have happened to me and the good things that I have been a “witness” to that have happened to other people.
As a neurosurgeon, I am often working at the edge of the world, peering into the uncertainty beyond and trying to make a positive contribution to others. Angela’s experience is an example of why neurosurgery is what I term a “Life and Death” specialty field of doctoring where what you do can save or take a life or restore or worsen lost function. Neurosurgeons often are confronted with critically ill people, who need our help, and I suppose that is what attracts us to this field – the opportunity to really help!
Similarly, that is what attracts many of us to do research in neurosurgery because there are still so many mysteries that need to be solved about the brain and spinal cord. Neurosurgery also gives us the opportunity to witness heroes among the people we are associated with, including those we try to help. They are often the heroes of life’s journey, and I have been privileged to work with many of them such as Rick Hansen, Christopher Reeve, and Barbara Turnbull, all of whom had paralyzing spinal cord injuries and did not recover lost function but who used what remaining function they had to change the world by their heroic missions to help other people with those same injuries. To be associated with these heroes has been a thrill.
When I was called upon to look after Angela 33 years ago in 1988, I had to peer into the future to plan what to do for her. Fortunately, I was assisted by the enormously talented teachers and researchers who had molded my neurosurgical armamentarium and laid the foundation for what needed to be done to put the pieces of her shattered spine back together again. Fortunately, I had also done considerable work in my laboratory at the Toronto Western Hospital on this very issue of how to help people with crushing injuries of the spinal cord. Angela had broken her neck and damaged her spinal cord in a shallow water dive-one of summer’s continuing tragic events.
By 1988, we were certain that we needed to operate quickly when shattered bone was compressing the spinal cord. We had already done many experiments in the laboratory showing that compressed nervous tissue dies quickly. That knowledge made us certain that we needed to quickly remove the shattered bone fragments that were compressing Angela’s spinal cord. We had also learned how to apply traction judiciously to restore spinal alignment and how to fuse the damaged bone with bone grafts wedged precisely into place guided by a high-powered microscope.
So, modern medicine and modern research gave us the knowledge and tools to give her the best chance to recover lost function.
It was then that Angela’s heroic determination and courage took over to get her through the rehabilitation and hard work required to get her nerves and muscles working again. Yes, what a blessing it was for her to have family and friends to help, but her own inner courage was the essential ingredient.
When she describes in the book her additional challenges with other health problems such as epilepsy and the death of her father from a brain tumour, it is clear why she deserves to be in my book of heroes. Reading her book makes you realize her enormous inner strength gained from her own inner experiences and that this is the source of her knowledge that she is imparting to others. Her mission is to enhance their journeys through their own challenges. She has been there and knows, and that is the source of what she is clearly telling her readers to enable them so that that they might benefit as well.
I was grateful to Angela for asking me to write the Foreword to her book in which she described her amazing journey and heroic mission. I felt that her message was great, and I am also grateful to Parachute for reprinting the Foreword. Angela’s message is that other people can develop and mobilize the inner strength that is in all of us to meet life’s challenges. In my view, Parachute is also a great example of an organization which has shown its inner strength to meet life’s challenges. It has been my privilege to have been associated with both Angela and Parachute!