Gabe Abotossaway gets ready for rehab program in Toronto

by Alicia McCutcheon

SUDBURY—Gabe Abotossaway was sitting upright in his chair in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Sudbury Regional Hospital Sunday morning, his mother Beverly, as always, by his side.

The young man survived a severe car accident on May 21 that saw traumatic injuries to his body, including fractured limbs and ribs, a lacerated liver, broken jaw, the removal of his spleen and injury to his spinal cord.

Today, the majority of those injuries have healed, with the exception of the spinal cord injury, which has Mr. Abotossaway labeled a C4-5 quadriplegic, meaning he has no feeling from his shoulders down.

He was also the recipient of a NeuRx Diaphragm Pacing System, groundbreaking surgery he received in July to kickstart his diaphragm into inflating and deflating, as doctors had discovered its right side was not working at all after the accident.

Thanks to the surgery, Mr. Abotossaway has been ventilator-free for 40 days—a major feat and one of the requirements to get him into Toronto Rehab, and his application has been sent this week. He’s also been given an eating and speaking tracheostomy tube (trach) and had his first bit of real food over the weekend, pureed, but not given through a feeding tube—another accomplishment for the 20-year-old on his road to recovery. To top it all off, Mr. Abotossaway was moved from the ICU to a regular room on Sunday, too.

In a whisper, Gabe said he has been feeling better since having the pacemaker surgery and his mother noted that the last step before rehab will be the removal of his feeding tube, which they expect to happen in the next few weeks. Ms. Abotossaway noted that her son would be Toronto Rehab’s first diaphragmatic pacing system patient, so there was some research that needed to be done.

When asked about the first thing the young man said with his speaking trach, he looked over at his mother for help, his throat being sore that day, the muscles in his throat still weak from underuse. “He recited the alphabet and then said, ‘this is f-ing awesome’.” Mr. Abotossaway gave a slow smile. His mother laughed.

“The care here has been exceptional and to have been able to have his care in Sudbury is just great,” she said. “And every bit of support that Gabe’s been getting is much appreciated.” Gabe nodded his head in agreement.

Ms. Abotossaway noted her son’s friend Bo Larabie, who was also involved in a separate car accident in the spring. Mr. Larabie, she reported, was just released from Toronto Rehab this month and has told her he’s looking forward to helping his friend along when he gets to that point.

Reciprocally, when asked about his friend’s accident, Mr. Abotossaway said he was scared and worried for him.

“Since our lives were forever changed on May 21, 2011, it has been a struggle to get where we are today,” Ms. Abotossaway said. “Seeing my son so broken, it is beyond a miracle that Gabe has managed to overcome so many hurdles. With five surgeries (some surgeries had two procedures done at once) and countless procedures, Gabe continues to beat all odds.”

“From day one I heard from surgeons that Gabe probably wouldn’t make it through the hour, let alone the day after surgeries, and I continued praying with all of my being for God to have mercy,” she continued. “Earlier on, when Gabe was unconscious and incoherent, I spoke to his spiritual self telling him to go where he needed to go so he wouldn’t feel pain and suffering. I told him to go and visit with family and friends that had passed on as they would take care of him, but to come back to me when he was ready. This was the hardest thing I had to do as a mother. My son has been to heaven several times and my heart soared when he opened his tear-stained eyes and acknowledged me in Toronto.”

“About a few weeks after the accident I had this indescribable moment with Gabe; we just stared into each other’s eyes for what seemed like an eternity—no words can describe it except it felt the same way when he was first born and I gazed into his beautiful brown eyes and promised to love and protect him,” Ms. Abotossaway shared. “Today, with most of the tubes out of his body and all monitors off, Gabe is doing all the work on his own. We have finally been cleared out of the ICU setting and in a regular room and soon on our way to Toronto Rehab (Lyndhurst) to which his application has been sent. We are finally embarking on a new chapter in Gabe’s remarkable life.”

The mother explained she will be moving with Gabe to Toronto and will be learning everything right along with her son. In fact, she said, she has even begun keeping a scrapbook of everything he has gone through, the ups and the downs.

“I am just thankful to be able to walk into his hospital room everyday, as things could have been much different for our family,” Ms. Abotossaway continued. “Gabe is truly awesome and I am grateful that he chose me to be his mom before he was born and came into this world. We are thankful for the financial support that has been underway to help cover the costs of Gabe’s pacer. This past weekend, Marvin Assiniwai, Mike Ramsden, Vicky Corbiere and Natasha Abotossaway held the String Golf tournament in which they raised a substantial portion to assist. I remarked to my friend that if I got paid for every tear I shed over the last four months, we would have more than enough funds to take care of everything.”

“Again, we are forever thankful to have so many caring people in our lives, ensuring Gabe’s survival,” she added.