British Columbia mother Angela Shymanski thought that driving to Calgary with her two children would be a relaxing family vacation.
Instead, while driving back home through the Canadian Rockies, the mother experienced her worst nightmare.
Shymanski had taken the trip alone with her children, 5-year-old Lexi and 10-week-old Peter, while her husband stayed at home in B.C. due to work obligations.
That left her as the sole caregiver, supervisor, and chauffeur on the way home, which makes for a grueling drive through the mountainous terrain near Jasper, Alberta. She had no reprieve as she navigated both motherhood and driving safely, which would ultimately prove costly.
The mother thought she would simply calm the kids during the doldrum hours of the drive by putting on a relaxing CD of lullabies—but not realizing how exhausted she herself was from the trip, the CD ended up putting her to sleep instead.
Shymanski had to hear the rest of the events secondhand, as she spent most of the horrifying endeavor unconscious. After she unexpectedly passed out at the wheel, the mom veered off the road and down a steep bank, falling 40 feet before the car’s fall was broken by a tree.
The crash could have easily been fatal for all three in the car, even though they remained alive after the initial impact. Shymanski herself was knocked unconscious immediately upon impact, breaking her back and multiple additional bones, and help didn’t seem likely to come looking down the side of a hill on a random road between Alberta and British Columbia. With seemingly no way to get to help, the three may have met with a devastating fate following their family vacation.
What happened next, though, was nothing short of heroic.
Five-year-old Lexi had only ever gotten herself out of her car seat’s five-point harness once before, but the young girl finally figured out the straps upon her realization that her baby brother was crying and her mom wasn’t waking up.
From there, the little girl climbed out of the car and began the steep descent back up to the roadway, trekking up the 40-foot slope in an attempt to find help.
In the aftermath, Angela would learn that the embankment was so steep that firefighters would need a rope to get down to the car, making Lexi’s trek—done barefoot, nonetheless—even more heroic. None of the adults who would attempt to get down to save Angela and Peter were able to do it on their own, needing reinforcements and ultimately needing an airlift to get Angela to safety.
Luckily, though, the older sister managed to get up to the roadway in enough time to flag someone down to help her mother and little brother, who would end up being treated for a brain injury himself.
The first motorist to stop was actually a paramedic, which was even luckier for Shymanski. The mother and swimming instructor could have been paralyzed for life if an innocent would-be rescuer had attempted to move her on their own—but the paramedic recognized that, and quickly called in reinforcements to make sure that the rescue effort wouldn’t go awry.
It took Shymanski 19 days to get discharged from the hospital after getting airlifted to Edmonton, and much longer after that to be considered even close to a full recovery.
She had required CPR after her rescue, breaking even more bones to go with the injuries she was already dealing with from the crash itself. That, plus her spinal surgery and multiple abdominal surgeries, left the mother unable to lift her young infant Peter for weeks after the accident, and she was wheelchair bound for even longer after that—but although Peter had needed neurosurgery himself and it took countless trips back to Edmonton to get Angela back to health, the family is now thriving.
In an update on their GoFundMe page, the Shymanski family revealed that they had taught Lexi to walk barefoot from their home to a neighbor’s place the year prior to the accident, teaching her Emergency Preparedness and reiterating that ‘good strangers’ can save your life in an emergency.
It seems that those lessons, combined with the innate bravery and quick thinking the 5-year-old girl managed to display, saved three lives that day.