Jim Hilton pens a column on forestry each week for the Observer.

Jim Hilton pens a column on forestry each week for the Observer.

FOREST INK: Finding inspiration through tragedy

Jim Hilton examines the story of Daniela Garcia Palomer

I started an article about how technology has allowed women to work at jobs that were normally dominated by men. The forest industry has many examples of jobs that require the ability to adapt to changes and relies on dexterity rather than strength as used to be the case which favoured the male workers. Rather than give examples of the kinds of jobs that show the changes needed, I came across a story which describes an extreme example of human resiliency of adapting to events that take place in some peoples lives.

I read about Daniela Garcia Palomer, MD in a Reader’s Digest article. She was in her fourth year of medical school when she was on a train trip to the Inter-Medical School Games, an annual tradition of athletic competition among Chilean medical students. During the evening as she walked between train cars with friends, she fell through a gap onto the tracks. A few older rail cars had been added to handle the extra passengers but were unfortunately lacking some safety features like lights and platforms that had wider gaps when rounding corners.

Miraculously, she survived the ordeal because she was quickly found by a man who was walking along the tracks near a small town where the accident took place. Unfortunately the impact of the fall and the train passing over her amputated her left leg above the knee, severed both forearms and hands, and amputated her right leg below the knee.

Despite these unimaginable injuries – and the long months of rehabilitation that followed in the United States, including three treatments (six weeks, eight weeks and four weeks) at Moss Rehab centre — she learned to use her new aids. Along with her dedication to recover she also gives credit to a physiatrist Dr. Alberto Esquenazi who gave her a role model to follow. Dr. Garcia Palomer recovered, completed medical school, and became the first physician with quadrilateral amputation. She now works as a physiatrist in the Gait Laboratory at the Teleton Rehabilitation Institute in Chile.

A recent article about Palomer, who was a keynote speaker at the two-day Moss Rehab Rehabilitation of Persons with Amputation conference describes her work in Chile. “After the accident, I learned and experienced what rehabilitation could do for someone, and I fell in love with it. Now I work in rehabilitating children and young adults. When you live through a life-changing situation, your perspective changes, and you learn to appreciate what really makes you happy.” Her medical knowledge along with how she can function with her prostheses no doubt is an encouragement to her patients she has also managed to maintain a relatively normal home life.

The article shows how she is able to control two steel fingers on each hand using her back muscles which enable her to manipulate objects with great dexterity. She also is able to ride a specially made bike which was a favourite pastime with her boyfriend (now husband). Fortunately while most of us will not have the kind of trauma experienced by Dr. Palomer we can try and use our experiences to overcome obstacles in our lives.

Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.

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