After a tragic accident, local woman determined to live life to its fullestFeb 03, 2023 08:37AM ● By Shaun Delliskave
Heather Vanboerum. (Photo courtesy Heather Vanboerum)
Days before Christmas 2021, Heather Vanboerum visited the Murray Costco to pick up a few last-minute supplies for a holiday party. She also was anticipating, any day, the birth of her granddaughter. However, minutes later, terror struck the 51-year-old mother as she headed out into the parking lot and heard screams; she turned around to see an out-of-control car careening toward her. Before she could do anything, the vehicle plowed into her, pinning her to another car.
Vanboerum’s right leg was severed, and her left leg mutilated, where she was losing blood fast and had minutes to live. Fast-thinking Costco employees responded by placing a tourniquet. At the time of the crash, she was on the phone with her husband, Don, an ER doctor across the road at Intermountain Medical Center.
That Christmas Eve, Vanboerum’s legs were amputated. Her hospital bed was wheeled across the hospital days later to visit her new grandbaby.
While in the hospital, Vanboerum decided her attitude toward her situation would be to live life to the fullest.
Vanboerum has defied expectations at every turn in her recovery—fit with her first prosthetic leg in March and her second in June at Murray’s Hanger Clinic. She has worked hard to walk independently and return to the activities she loves: playing pickleball, cycling and hiking with her family. Her next goal: learn to ski.
One of Vanboerum’s biggest supporters is Hanger Clinic’s prosthetist and area clinic manager, Wendy Remington. Remington has been there since the beginning, providing hope to Vanboerum in the hospital, helping Vanboerum take her first steps, and now assisting Vanboerum to conquer adaptive sports and recreation—celebrating the little victories along the way. Vanboerum is also now paying it forward by participating in life-saving emergency care initiatives in the community, teaching several classes through the local EMS team.
“It’s hard to be negative when so many people around you are cheering you on,” Vanboerum said. “I think of the many heroic efforts it took to get me where I am today, and I am so grateful to everyone.”
“Heather’s authenticity and openness to learning have been a huge part of her success. From day one, Heather has worked hard, set goals, and embraced her new situation with courage and willingness to tackle the unknown. I find an adaptable and open mindset like Heather’s can be a big asset to someone recovering from a traumatic injury in maintaining physical, mental and emotional health,” Remington said.
According to Vanboerum, she focused on three aspects of her life that would carry her through this tragedy.
“I would recommend checking in daily with oneself in three areas. I focused on mental, spiritual and physical healing. I recognized early on that if I was struggling in one area, the other two areas suffered as well. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. The stronger you stay, the faster you heal,” Vanboerum said.
Remington also provided insights into how others can help one going through a difficult life change.
“One of the best ways to support someone when they have had a life-altering injury is to practice empathy. Learning to adapt to a significant life change is difficult for the person going through it and the family and friends supporting the affected person. Everyone will have a grieving process to adjust to the feelings that come up with such a life-changing event like limb loss. The best thing someone can do is reach out for help if they are struggling or if they see their family members struggle with feeling alone or overwhelmed in the process,” Remington said.
Hanger Clinic offers peer mentorship through its AMPOWER program, where they provide help and encouragement to amputees going through the recovery process by sharing resources, providing emotional support, and answering questions about the recovery process.
“It’s also important to build a strong community, so new prosthetic users do not feel alone in their journey, which is why we host group events and activities such as EmpowerFest, adaptive bike rides, running clinics, support groups and more,” Remington said.
“There really aren’t ‘days of discouragement’ as much as there are moments or times of discouragement,” Vanboerum said. “So, really taking everything moment by moment or hour by hour helps me to move on from discouraging times. A really cool guy named Tommy, that I met at an amputee event last summer, gave me some great advice. He said when things get tough, and they will, let yourself feel it and sit in it. Then he said to kick yourself in the butt and get movin’ forward. I have reminded myself to do so often.”