A woman whose lower body was destroyed after a snowplow accident had the most serious catastrophic injuries that Ottawa lawyer Howard Yegendorf has ever encountered his 34 year legal career.
But she is also an inspiration, says Yegendorf, who helped Karen Toop win a financial settlement from the City of Ottawa last year.
“I’ve rarely met anybody as inspirational as this woman,” says Yegendorf, principal of Howard Yegendorf & Associates.
“It’s pretty amazing to see what has become of her. She’s had more than 30 surgeries — some of which were life and death — but I’ve never been with her when she didn’t have a big smile on her face,” Yegendorf says. “It’s been a real privilege, a real honour to have represented her.”
Toop was coming home from her job at Industry Canada on Jan. 24, 2012, when a dump truck outfitted with a plow struck her while she crossed the street.
“I remember going over the front wheels and sort of laying on my back and thinking immediately, ‘I have a five-year-old, I can’t die,'” Toop tells CBC News.
“I tried to lift up my legs…but they wouldn’t move. I just was kind of split in half.”
She sued the city of Ottawa and reached a confidential settlement in July 2015.
Toop’s injuries were catastrophic, her plastic surgeon told CBC. One leg and half of her pelvis were ripped off her body. The other leg was badly mangled and was amputated.
She remained in hospital for nearly two years, undergoing complex surgeries and extensive rehabilitation. She is now back living with her family in a newly constructed wheelchair-accessible home with an elevator and special pool, CBC reports.
“Anybody associated with the case said it was the worst they’d ever seen,” Yegendorf says.
A 30-minute documentary detailing the new realities of Toop’s life helped Yegendorf negotiate a successful settlement through mediation, he says.
It helped convince opposing lawyers of the need for 24/7 constant attendant care, Yegendorf says.
“It shows how incredibly inspirational this woman is,” he adds.
“Karen Toop was an ordinary person, worked a federal public servant job, with a husband and young child — then she was faced with this unbelievable challenge. I would go out on a limb and say the vast majority of people would not have handled it as well as she.”
Toop is extremely open in the film, Yegendorf says, allowing the camera to record intimate moments of her new daily life. She requires the help of a live-in care worker, as well as a team of medical professionals, such as a physical therapist, massage therapist and personal trainer.
The film also shows graphic images of her lower body torn apart after the accident, as well as how it looks now — with no legs or mid-section. Instead, she has a complete reconstructed lower torso.
“My organs were gone, my vagina, everything,” Toop says in the film. Doctors reconstructed her pelvis using a knee bone from her leg. She also has a bladder “reservoir” made from her bowels, which must be emptied manually from a spout in her stomach.
Her husband, Harvey Toop, says in the film that it was nine months before he knew she would survive.
“She wasn’t expected to make it the first night. And it literally took three days to stop the bleeding,” he says through tears. “There was so much internal damage, it was hard to bring the bleeding to a halt.”
While Toop continues to face many obstacles in her everyday life, she manages to play dodgeball with her nine-year-old son, Ryan. She eats and drinks as normal and is learning to swim and perform exercises to maintain her strength.
Yegendorf, who says he remains close to his former client, says Toop will be a hero to her son.
“He’ll come to understand what she faced, how hard she fought and essentially, that she did it for him,” Yegendorf said.
“She’s an ordinary person who faced extraordinary circumstances. To me, she’s a giant. So it’s a great blessing that she lets me be a part of her life.”