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Profound appreciation

James Mann
James Mann is happy at home on his Port Perry farm, thanks to Sunnybrook’s life-saving trauma and critical care

James remembers waking from a week-long medically induced coma and feeling like he would most certainly die.

On February 2, 2023, the 63-year-old engineering consultant was using a tractor to pull a truck out of a ditch on his horse farm in Port Perry, Ont., when the chain he was using snapped. It recoiled at a high velocity, striking James and breaking his jaw and teeth and opening a deep wound on the right side of his face.

His son, Wesley, called 911 and James was rushed to his local hospital – and soon after to Sunnybrook’s Tory Trauma Program. One in every three Ontario trauma patients (more than 2,000 a year) receives life-saving interventions at Sunnybrook, the first and busiest trauma centre in Canada.

Sunnybrook’s unique systems and innovations in trauma and critical care recently led to the Tory Trauma Program’s recognition as a verified Level 1 trauma centre by the American College of Surgeons – a Canadian first.

“At the time I didn’t think it was serious. I knew my teeth were broken, but I wasn’t thinking I was going to require prolonged care in hospital because I wasn’t feeling any real pain at the time of my injury,” James recalls. “I guess that’s what shock can do to you.”

James even called his wife, Yawen Wu, to tell her he’d be home by midnight.

Combining compassion and skill

Instead, James was rushed to an operating room, where Sunnybrook plastic surgeon Dr. Oleh Antonyshyn and his team painstakingly repaired the bone and soft tissue in James’s face. “Because so much bone was missing, we relied on the very basic principles of surgery. These methods are tried and true, and they made all the difference for James and his recovery,” says Dr. Antonyshyn.

When James woke a week later, he was intubated in critical care. He remembers feeling frightened, confused and convinced that he would never leave the hospital.

“I just thought that I was not going to live,” James recalls. “I had tubes down my nostril to my stomach. I was terrified to sleep. My throat and mouth were like a desert. It was a very, very difficult time.”

The next six days in Sunnybrook’s critical care were among both the darkest and most profound James has experienced in his entire life.

James and his son, Wesley
James and son Wesley, standing close to where the accident occured on the family's farm.

Rebuilding his strength

James credits his family and the compassionate and highly skilled teams at Sunnybrook with helping him make it out the other side.

He tells the story of being on 24-hour watch and spending much of the night awake and in whispered conversations with Sunnybrook staff and volunteers about their lives, their profession and their desire to make a difference.

I got to know some people who are truly wonderful, nice people. I spent a lot of time talking to them and it really changed my outlook on some things in my own life,” says James. “It gave me a very deep and profound appreciation of the staff and the quality of people who work at Sunnybrook.”

One of the hallmarks of Sunnybrook’s Tory Trauma Program is the high-performing teams of clinical and applied health experts who come together to help patients like James and their families navigate the hours, days and weeks following a major trauma.

Ripple effect

From the nurses, anaesthesiologists, plastic surgeons, dental surgeons, otolaryngologists and ophthalmologists who cared for James in the operating room to the social workers, occupational therapists and speech and language pathologists in the critical care unit and trauma ward, everyone was working toward the same goal: to get James out of hospital and back to his work and life with family.

One of those caregivers was Kyle Williams. A U of T social work student who was completing a training rotation in the Tory Trauma Program, Kyle arrived at James’s bedside two days post-surgery to offer emotional support to his wife, their four children and, when he awoke, to James himself.

A trauma is like a drop of water on a pond. A sudden, unexpected moment changes the way the water moves – the way their life is going – with a ripple effect on everything and everyone connected to them,” Kyle says.

Occupational therapist Estella Tse helped James navigate those ripples in preparation for his safe return home. “I knew Mr. Mann wanted to return to the farm and his work as soon as he could, so we talked about how he could do it safely while respecting his need to heal and recover,” she says.

Renewed hope

Slowly but surely and with the care and reassurances of his family and health team, James began to heal physically and emotionally. “All these people brought me from a dark place to a place where I recognized that I was going to be fine. I was going to go home,” says James. “And then I was on a mission to leave the hospital as quickly as possible.”

James remembers being transferred from the critical care unit to Sunnybrook’s trauma ward with renewed hope and enthusiasm for life, and deep gratitude for all his caregivers.

Just three days later – only 16 days after his accident – James was discharged from hospital. After a month, he was back at work at the Toronto-based energy conservation and renewable energy company he founded in 1988.

But his heart remains on the Port Perry farm he built with his own hands and continues to run with his wife Yawen, son Wesley, and daughters Mimi, Maylee and Jamie.

James in his horse farm
James on his horse farm.
Depths of his gratitude

Two months after his accident, James sent an email to patient care navigator Dr. Kay Juwape (see below) that he asked to be shared with every person involved in his care.

“I have absolutely no words to express the depths of my gratitude for the team of people who provided the care that resulted in my full recovery from my injuries,” James wrote.

“I want everyone to know – Sunnybrook absolutely changed my life.”