Consequences of another driver’s actions have lasted a lifetime
Heather Cook is an avid reader of the Voice. On a table in her Quaker Road apartment, the 77-year Fenwick native has several issues of the newspaper sitting on a table with notes written on the margins of some of the pages.
The paper’s recent coverage of speeding and unsafe driving habits on Port Robinson Road prompted her to call with a desire to tell her story about how her life changed because of a collision.
Her decision to recount her story is twofold. She wants drivers to understand the possible consequences of their unsafe driving, and she’s hoping her story will prompt the police to crack down on speeders and those who drive through stop signs as if they don’t exist.
“They are not obeying the signs and that is what happens. They should enforce those laws.”
She admits she too is not without fault.
“I don’t think we obey the speed limits and I have trouble with that too. I get a heavy foot too.”
Cook, who grew up on a fruit farm just down the street from E.L. Crossley, was seriously injured in a crash at the intersection of Port Robinson Road and Rice Road.
“It was on June 11, 1984,” she said. “I had just come from my chiropractor and I was driving on Port Robinson and had the right of way. Someone was driving down Rice Road not obeying the signs and they didn’t stop.”
Now the intersection is controlled by traffic lights, but back then and until relatively recently, there were only stop signs on Rice Road.
“He hit me broadside and drove me into a telephone phone and I ended up in Hamilton General Hospital unconscious for a month. The cop gave me a picture of my car and all that was left was the frame.”
She was still unconscious when her 40th birthday came during her time in the hospital. When she awoke and was good enough to good home, she had to move in with her mother because she was unable to take care of herself.
“Thank God my mother was there to take care of me,” Cook said. “She took care of me as a little girl to get me through school and then she had to take care of me again.”
She doesn’t even want to think what would have happened in her life if her mother hadn’t been there to nurse her back to health.
“I would have been lost in the courts or whatever. That’s it.”
The collision was also hard on her family.
“It takes a toll on them too because I wasn’t the same person.”
She admitted being nervous about driving again after the incident.
“My brother said I had to get back in that car and drive. I always lived out on a farm and if you wanted to go anywhere you had to drive.”
She still pays particular attention to the fateful intersection.
“I’m not worried about it but I watch it when I am driving through it.”
She still bears the physical and mental scars from the collision. The physical remnant is a tracheotomy scar on her neck and the mental aspects are the lingering after-effects of a serious brain injury she suffered in the impact.
“And then as you age, everything else is falling apart too,” she said with a laugh. “I am pretty thankful that I can think, understand, know who you are and my memory has come back more after 37 years. Initially I had to write things down so that I could remember, and I still have to make a list if I go to the grocery store for a few things.”
The collision also changed her personality.
“I was always outgoing and social but I kind of became a recluse. I used to be jovial and I think I am again now.”
Cook received a court settlement and her oldest brother, a financial advisor, invested the money to provide her with an income to live on. After the collision, she was unable to return to her job at the Skylon Tower.
“I tried to go back but I had worked there long enough to know that I wasn’t carrying my load with the rest of the crew. I just couldn’t cope like I used to.”
To keep herself busy, Cook took courses at Niagara College and educated herself on health foods and natural remedies.
“I try to doctor myself and I go to the guy in Welland. His face just lights up when I come in because I spend $200 bucks.”