Updated: Jul 17
Kristi Leer in Vancouver General Hospital, with her children by her side
Kristi Leer was a happy and successful business owner.
Then an accident turned her life upside down, and she was left to fend for herself in a system meant to be there in her time of need.
This is her story.
By Kristi Leer
June 20th, 2021
Before the accident, things in my life were going well.
I had my own business escorting oversize loads through Canada and doing traffic control on work sites, and I was also a traffic control instructor.
I was a single mom and it was hard, especially with the oil and gas sector closing up in Fort Nelson, but I was making it work, providing for my family, and I was happy.
Kristi with friends before her accident
On November 9th, 2017, I was driving on my way to teach a course; the conditions were terrible, but I needed the work and couldn’t postpone it.
As I was driving, I hit black ice and it all went from there. My truck slid, then spun out, and I hit an embankment so hard that I broke my neck instantly.
I had to lay there in my truck, paralyzed from the neck down, for 4 hours, and ended up with hypothermia and pneumonia.
And that’s how the ordeal began.
REHAB – CUT SHORT
From here I was taken to Vancouver General Hospital, where I stayed for a few weeks, and in December I was transferred to GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre to start my rehab.
Things were going well enough, as I slowly regained some mobility, but then in February, still in the early stages of recovery, I was very abruptly informed that it was time for me to go.
I was told that, as a WorkSafe client, I’d get the support I needed and that I should leave, because non-WorkSafe clients needed a bed at GF Strong more than I did.
To be honest, I wanted to leave—I was traumatized at the time and wanted to be home, but I knew I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t far enough in my recovery, and I didn’t have a plan in place for re-entering the community.
Kristi's had to rely on support from her family, including her young children
Despite my concerns, WorkSafe dumped me in a hotel in Fort St. John, and since I live in Fort Nelson I had no family or friends there with me. I spent the first months of my recovery alone, locked in an inaccessible hotel.
Then came a change of scenery, as I moved from the hotel to my mother’s house. My parents and the community raised the money to build a ramp and accessible shower for me, because WorkSafe wouldn’t pay for it; they’d only consider accepting a receipt for reimbursement.
Kristi was confined to the indoors so much during her recovery that paramedics had to eventually wheel her outside for fresh air and sunlight
A problem that arose during this time was all the restrictions placed on my care workers.
They were told they couldn’t talk to me about anything other than the care I got, that they couldn’t do this or that, and if any activity involved my kids they had to refuse. It became a depressing job for them; one by one they left, and when COVID came my last remaining worker was gone.
As a result, I was left infected, bleeding, falling on floor and unable to get up since I was without care workers. Without assistance I even became unable to shower at my own home and still can’t today!
I was left infected, bleeding, falling on the floor and unable to get up
All of these experiences left traumatized and then retraumatized me, and my daughter and my son had to go through it with me.
Even what little WorkSafe has done for me falls short.
For example, sure, they approve out of town trips for me, but I get nothing for a support worker when I’m travelling. I’ve therefore been forced to save costs by sleeping in the same bed as my support worker, in cramped, inaccessible hotel rooms.
In one case I had to wake my support worker up and explain that I had urinated on them. That’s what it’s come to, because WorkSafe denies the fact we deserve personal space and privacy while traveling.
I had to explain to the support worker I shared the bed with that I'd urinated on them. That's what it comes to when WorkSafe denies personal space and privacy.
WorkSafe also approved a mechanical bed that prevents falls, but when it breaks down it takes them months to help repair it, which means I find myself on the floor, unable to get up. When I ask what takes them so long, they tell me I should live closer to the city!
And of course there are plenty of things which I need, which they continue to refuse me. I could use physiotherapy so bad, but they simply won’t approve it. Why should people with no idea what my needs are get to make these decisions about my care and my body?
Why should people with no idea what my needs are get to make these decisions about my care and my body?
Now, I have made progress. I have gone from immobile, to swimming on my own, getting in and out of my wheelchair by myself, and taking my kids to and from school.
But make no mistake. Every bit of progress I’ve made in my recovery has been due to my own determination, and the support of my amazing community, NOT WorkSafeBC.
They simply don’t care.
THE CHANGES NEEDED
So what needs to change?
1. Put workers first. Hear what the workers want, and then act. Don’t just ignore them.
2. Do more to recognize that we have children and family – this impacts them too. Because of what I’ve been through, I’m now unfit to be a mother in my ex’s eyes, and short on money to feed my children.
WorkSafe doesn’t recognize children or give them the proper support. If they did, workers could focus more on self-care like WorkSafe says we should.
Do more to recognize that we have children and family - this impacts them too
3. WorkSafe should invest in building accessible hotels, because travelling is complete shit under their conditions.
4. WorkSafe could give injured workers jobs in their office. After all, who knows the system better than injured workers themselves?
5. Let us be our own case manager. Why do I need someone in charge of me when I have run a business and know my situation better than anyone else? Let us be the boss, Give us control. It’s our body.
Give us the control. It's our body.
6. Give me back every dime I have ever given to WCB while working.
7. Give us what we ask for -- don’t limit us. Stop saying ‘I understand you need it, but I can only give you this.’ That just holds us back.
Stop saying 'I understand you need it, but I can only give you this'
8. Actually visit our home more often, have group meetings more often; I’m not included in anything they talk about. Why?
9. Replace care aids with nurses or companions. Care aids should not exist in home care; they make me feel worthless and I’ve made a bigger recovery without them.
A FINAL MESSAGE
I want to say something to all the other injured workers out there.
Remember, each one of you is worth it. I don’t think many of you realize it, because you’ve been treated by the machine like you’re nobody, but that’s not true – you are somebody and you deserve much better.
Spencer van Vloten is the editor of BC Disability. To get in touch, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org!