Malcolm M. M. Vanstone
SLS, P. Surv.
I’d like to start by thanking the association for this opportunity to sit on council. As I pondered what to write about for this column a number of subjects crossed my mind. Everything from amendments to the monument restoration program, recruiting new surveyors, the subject of ambulatory boundaries and the accretion/erosion issue in Saskatchewan to the “improvement under mistake of title act” and a recent court case in Saskatchewan that I think might be of interest to our members. I do find this case interesting so I’ll just reference it here. The case is Limacher v Pickering, 2013 SKQB 396 and can be found on CANLII. I think our membership may find it interesting.
I considered all the previous topics at length before realizing who my target audience was and coming to the harsh realization I’d be completely unqualified to write about those topics for this audience. Therefore, I am choosing to write about something that has become a very big part of my life recently. That is safety. Particularly eye safety. Please bear with me before you all quit reading. I know we all deal with safety everyday and are likely quite tired of some of the regulations and paper work it generates. Please trust me, I have what I think is an interesting story, but also one that can genuinely help to make you or your employees, or family safer.
The story begins last summer at my Aunt and Uncle’s resort on Makwa Lake, SK about 1.5 hours northeast of Lloydminster. We had gathered there in what was supposed to be a celebration of my middle sister-in-law, Sasha’s, upcoming wedding to her fiancé Tony. The group included the entire wedding party, as well as Sasha’s Dad, my Mom, my sister and brother-in-law, my aunt and uncle, a few of my cousins and a couple of other friends of the bride and groom to be. A fairly large but extremely fun group. Friday night came and everyone arrived at Loon (Makwa) Lake safe and sound. We all enjoyed a great BBQ supper and a few drinks around the fire. The next morning the sun was shining and the lake was calm, you really couldn’t ask for a better day. I’ve been coming to my aunt and uncle’s resort since I was a kid, it’s honestly one of my favorite places on earth. We’ve had so many great times there; water skiing, tubing, fishing, pontoon boating, sea-doing, quading etc… The resort is in the heart of Saskatchewan’s playground and they have all the toys and amenities you’d ever want for the perfect get away. So, with the sun beating down I went to the main house and grabbed the keys to my uncle’s boat. They had just bought a “six man” tube, which was perfect for our large group. So with the tube hooked up and six people in the tube and 4 more in the boat, we basically had the whole gang and were ready for a perfect day on the lake.
What happened next I guess can be called a freak accident, but I’ll tell you, I harbour a great deal of responsibility. As we were tubing, the rope to the tube snapped and came flying back to the boat. I was driving the boat and my youngest sister-in-law Shyanne was sitting next to me “spotting” the tube with my daughter, Autumn, on her lap. Sometimes things happen in slow motion. This accident happened literally in the blink of an eye. All I recall hearing was a twang, a whip and a loud crack. Sounds that still haunt me to this day. I looked over and saw Shyanne holding her eye with a bit of blood on her face. I was immediately concerned for Shyanne but also my daughter Autumn. I handed Shyanne a towel to cover her eye and grabbed Autumn and check her over. She was scared but thankfully not harmed. I made sure the people on the tube were OK and then abandoned them and ran Shyanne to shore. Shyanne’s Dad, Dave, and my Aunt, who is a retired nurse, attended to Shy while I returned to get the tubers. Once back on shore we knew Shy would need additional care. I quickly cleaned out my truck, took the child seat out and made room for Shy to lay down in the back seat. Myself, Dave, Shyanne and her boyfriend, Justin, set out for the Meadow Lake Hopsital. Upon review the ER doctor told us we’d need to immediately see a specialist in Saskatoon. I won’t admit to exceeding the speed limit or anything but we beat the doctor to the eye trauma Center in Saskatoon which was closed on that Saturday. When the doc arrived to see us standing at a locked door he said “Wow, didn’t expect you guys here for at least another hour”. What can I say, I must have hit all the lights right…
Anyhow, back to the story… The specialist takes Shy into an exam room and within about 20 minutes we’re informed they’ll have to do emergency surgery on her eye. They whisked her away to the operating room and began prepping for surgery. After hours of waiting, wondering how she was doing the surgeon came to the room where the family had gathered. I could tell from the look on the face of the young doctor that the news was bad. We’ve received some unsettling news from doctors in the past and usually they are able to deliver the facts at hand in a rather business like manner. I could see pain and anguish on the doctors face as he delivered the news with a crackling voice. He told us the damage to Shy’s eye was devastating. It is what they call a “total global rupture.” The force of the trauma was so great that it split the eye orbitally 360 degrees. He informed us that they put back as much “gray matter” as they could and stitched the globe back together. The next few days would be very important to determine if the stitches would hold and the eye could maintain pressure. If so, the eye could remain in place as a non functioning eye. If the eye did not hold pressure it would begin to shrink, causing other problems and would have to be surgically removed. Either way, she would never see out of that eye again. I was devastated. I left the OR waiting room punching thin air and trying to scream at the top of my lungs but unable to even muster a squeak. It was the sickest I’ve ever felt in my life. I understand now that it was a freak accident and the family had comforted me and told me it wasn’t my fault and not to blame myself. However there was/is still a nagging sense of guilt that is hard to get over knowing that indirectly my actions have cost someone their eye.
Thankfully, there is a positive side to this story, actually many positives. As Shy recovered from surgery that night we were able to see her and talk to her. By the time I was able to see her she had already been informed of the state of her eye. I was immediately consoled seeing how she was dealing with the news. She told us about a friend of hers who is deaf in one ear and has learned to compensate. She also mentioned that Justin’s uncle was legally blind in both eyes and lived a completely normal and full life. I was amazed at her acceptance of losing an eye and noting the fact that it could have been worse. The doctors had told her they were quite surprised that there was no bone or skeletal damage done to her face. Typically when they see an eye injury of this magnitude there are major reconstruction surgery’s required to fix the eye socket, cheek bones or forehead. She was thankful (as were all of us) that Autumn was completely unharmed. No one wants to even think about what might have been had the rope struck her. As Shyanne recovered in Saskatoon for the next few days she took many walks around the courtyard and noticed the Ronald McDonald house. Shyanne has always had a soft spot for kids. She is very active in her church as a Sunday School teacher and youth program coordinator. She was actually supposed to start volunteering at Circle square ranch as a camp councillor the following week after her accident. All of this volunteer work comes on top of her day job as an Early Childhood Educator where she works with kids all day. Upon returning home she was overwhelmed by the support of her school and church families. They had literally filled her room with gifts. Balloons, flowers, chocolates, stuffed animals, you name it, it was in her room. You couldn’t have fit another get well soon wish in there. While Shy was very appreciative of the show of support for her, she thought of the kids at the Ronald McDonald house that she had been walking past for the last three days and their struggles. She made a plea on Facebook that while she was thankful for the gifts, anyone wishing to show her their support for her could better spend their time and money by donating to the Ronald McDonald house. I don’t have the exact figures but I know she received correspondence from Ronald McDonald house indicating they had received thousands of dollars in donations in her name. It was at this point that Shyanne made it clear that this accident would not be in vain and that some “good” would come from it.
That’s when the idea for the “Shyanne Parsons Foundation” was born. We did some research and talked to some friends who have been involved with other charities. I have to thank the folks at the Sandra Schmirler foundation and the Scott Legacy fund for directing us down the right path. Today I am proud to announce that the “Shyanne Parsons Foundation” is a functioning non profit organization. We’ve collected numerous cash donations from friends and family and people who were inspired by Shy’s story. We’ve ran a few fundraisers so far and are planning more. We also created a logo and are selling t-shirts for the foundation. Total money raised to date from the garage sale, tshirt sales and a few other smaller fundraiser’s is just over $11,000. We have partnered with the South Saskatchewan Community Foundation who are able to manage the money and issue tax receipts for donations. Part of the money raised has gone into a “permanent endowment” fund. The interest from this fund will be used to provide a scholarship for students entering the professional eye care field. The other money is placed in a “flow thru” fund that will be used to support children’s charities or programs like the Ronald McDonald house. The first big donation the foundation made was to Circle Square ranch in the form of five junior compound bows that will be used in their children’s archery lessons. I’m very proud of my young sister in law for a number of things. The way she handled herself after the accident was amazing. The way she has used her accident as a vehicle to help others is truly inspiring. I should make it clear that Shyanne didn’t just lose an eye and then decide she wanted to help children. She’s always been passionate and caring and willing to help those in need, especially children. However, after her accident she saw an opportunity to turn something tragic into something positive and she took action to make it happen.
I’d like to pass along a few things I’ve learned about eyes and eye safety from this incident. The first thing I learned is that losing an eye is more common than I ever thought. Since Shyanne’s accident we have heard of numerous incidents of someone losing an eye. Please protect your eyes at all times. There was a common story among the numerous doctors Shyanne met with, they were all amazed at how the injury occurred. They all said they see this type of injury often, but not often without the bone damage. They also said typically their patients are males and usually the cause is from tow ropes and chains breaking while pulling someone out or from bungee straps popping loose and the hook catching the eye. Both of these were unsettling to me as they are two things that we deal with on a fairly common basis throughout our work. Therefore, I ask you to review your safe towing procedures with your crews and make sure they are all informed, not only of the proper procedure and equipment to use when pulling someone out, but why they need to be worried about it. Getting hit in the face with a snapping tow rope is a real thing, it can happen, it has happened and the result is devastating. Also, I urge you to look for alternatives to bungee straps and follow through with your crews that they aren’t using them. I know it’s difficult to change or replace something that works well for them, so please try to find real alternatives. To date I think the best alternative we’ve found is either “cam-buckle” straps or recently we found what’s called a “figure-nine” caribeaner. They are available at many stores but, for sure I know, Lowe’s has them. They use a caribeaner and a rope locking system to tighten and secure loads down. Also, if you’re out on the lake this summer partaking in water activities that require a rope, please inspect the rope and make sure it can handle the load you’re pulling.