Submitted by John Koidis

Visitor to the Columbia Valley

OUCH John Koidis suffered multiple injuries after falling into open water on Lake Windermere on Boxing Day.

This is a story of how a very brief three-day vacation turned to terror, followed by truly wonderful local support from a vast number of individuals and services.

As I write this, I am still in the valley on doctors orders and I have been here for 27 days, with approval to fly home granted only an hour ago. Almost all of that time has been spent in hospital. Perhaps my story will help others avoid such an incident, but mainly serve to encourage residents to further appreciate what you have here in the form of effective emergency and medical support, coupled with a great sense of community.

At Christmas, my wife, Stephanie Osborne, and I annually visit her parents, Danny and Sue Osborne, at their home in Windermere. Great times are always had.

But this year, things turned horribly wrong when I drove an ATV into open water on Lake Windermere on Boxing Day and ended up with six broken ribs, four cracked vertebrae and a punctured lung a near miss. I consider this a near miss because had things turned out slightly differently I would not be alive to tell you the story.

Each year, Danny and I regularly go quadding on Lake Windermere on what is normally thick, frozen ice. We tour the shoreline, stop by the fishing shacks and listen to stories of the one that got away.

But this Boxing Day, late in the afternoon, in my unbridled enthusiasm I talked my in-laws into letting me go for a quick spin before dinner (first mistake), alone (second mistake) and I got terribly disoriented in the dimming light (third mistake) and drove at high speed right into the open water of Windermere Creek (final and biggest mistake).

I simply thought I was far further south than turned out to be the case. I am familiar with the creek but by the time I saw it, it was too late. My ATV shot across open water and flipped over, throwing me forward. My body slammed into the bank of ice where the open water ended, shooting me 50 or more feet across on the ice in the dark. I was unable to move. I knew nobody at the house knew where I was. At 49 years of age I felt hope draining away.

Fortunately, neighbours at Trethewey Beach saw the incident and rushed to my side on their ATVs. The emergency services were called and Windermere Fire Department responded with a well-equipped team. Using bystanders ATVs, they were transported to the scene, and I was attended to in very cold weather and high winds, taken back to the shore and rushed to Invermere hospital.

Later that night I was taken by ambulance to Cranbrook, then back to Invermere the following day. I spent the following 11 days in Invermere hospital undergoing various tests while being monitored. Painkillers became a routine throughout the day and night.

The reason for writing this is to praise what this valley is all about: people helping people, being kind to each other and supporting one another.

I was completely overwhelmed by the attention I received at both hospitals, particularly Invermere. My primary physician, Dr. Theresa Ross, was wonderfully knowledgeable and friendly, a real person but at the same time completely professional. Other doctors such as Dr. White, along with the nursing staff, were remarkably compassionate and caring.

My father-in-law and I each visited the Windermere Fire Department team to express our gratitude and we have profusely thanked the neighbours who assisted at the scene.

Local friends and relatives of the Osborne family have come to my side in droves to wish me well, including cousin Manny Osborne-Paradis who took valuable time from his ski training schedule at Panorama to visit me in hospital.

Rhonda at the Corner Cafe sent up my favorite breakfast to the hospital, while Jim and Drew at Windermere Fire continue to ask how I am doing. There were many others who visited to whom I would find myself saying, But you hardly know me!

Not to disparage Toronto, where I grew up and run a successful restaurant, but I feel that nothing in the world could compare with the sense of community support I have received here and I gratefully thank everyone involved from the bottom of my heart.

Lake Windermere is being promoted as a unique winter experience, but I urge anyone who goes on the ice to heed all warnings about thin ice and vehicle movement. Take all necessary precautions against the unexpected and maybe pack along one of those foil emergency blankets. You never know if you may need it!

Congratulations, Columbia Valley. You are one of the most special places on Earth not just because of the scenery and recreational opportunities, but mainly because of the services and the people.