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Patient Stories

Highschooler’s Ski Accident Launched Her Winning Rowing Career

Hannah Now

Hannah Makmale, 16, from Weston, CT, recently led her Saugatuck Rowing Club team to victory in national championships for the 2nd year in a row. Looking at her smiling face with her equally gleaming teammates you would never guess that Hannah’s athleticism stems from a severe injury. As she begins to plan her life after high school, Hannah reflects on the accident that grew her survival instincts, her family values and perhaps even her relationship to accomplishment itself.

It was an icy day in the Poconos when 11 year-old Hannah, her dad, mom and two younger brothers went on a ski trip. Hannah’s dad always skied in front of the kids so they had a mark to follow. They all got off the lift and started their way down. However, Hannah turned a bit too wide – and this slight miscalculation sent her straight down the side of the trail, off a steep cliff and on a journey she’ll never forget.

“Am I going to die?” Hannah thought as she slid down the side of the mountain and into the wilderness – beyond the sight line of other skiers. Hannah continued to fall full speed until a tree stopped her motion by whipping one hip around its wide trunk.

Hannah’s brother sped down the mountain to bring back her father and ski patrol while onlookers tried and failed to reach Hannah’s screams.  Ski patrol set up a pulley system to get her up and eventually down the mountain and to the local hospital. Waves of pain hit Hannah as the scans were read and her parents were told she had much more than a broken leg.

“At this point I was in the hospital for about 7 or 8 hours and my parents were just trying to make the best possible decision for my future while keeping everyone calm,” said Hannah.

Behind the scenes, there was chatter that Hannah may never walk again unassisted.

“My parents were on calls to get recommendations on what to do and Dr. Leslie stood out to them as being someone who could perform this specialized surgery so I could walk again.”

However – since it was too risky for Hannah to be brought to Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital  by ambulance, she arrived via SkyHealth emergency patient transport helicopter.  “I was basically zipped up in a big bag, I had my mom by my side and I had a headset so I could communicate,” said Hannah who arrived to a sea of nurses and other clinicians.

After several additional scans Dr. Leslie presented what he saw as Hannah’s best option. “Acetabular fractures are a break in the socket portion of the ball and socket hip joint,” said Michael Leslie, DO, Chief of Orthopedic Trauma, Yale New Haven Hospital and associate professor, Yale School of Medicine. “These types of breaks require rapid and precise treatment because this section of bone neighbors major blood vessels to the leg and the sciatic nerve, which provides sensation and movement to the leg and foot.”

Hannah went through two surgeries at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital during her two week stay.  One of which was an 8 hour hip and pelvis reconstruction where plates were inserted to keep the bones in place.

Hannah with the therapy dog

“Dr. Leslie reassuring my parents, the nurses brushing my hair and taking care of my comforts beyond clinical care, the onsite slushies and therapy dogs – all made me feel like I had this giant team behind me working towards the same goal and everything was going to be ok,” said Hannah.

Hannah was trained on crutches that the team decorated before her discharge. She was homeschooled the rest of the year due to not being able to put any pressure on her hips.

“It all just kind of felt like a miracle that I was on a path to being able to walk again after something so tragic happened,” said Hannah who became laser-focused on rehab. The weekly improvements and her family cheering her on kept her momentum through two years of physical therapy.

Learning to walk again was the goal of rehab, but along the way Hannah picked up the joy of pushing herself. Once she graduated from rehab, Hannah looked for an activity that would make this accident mean something. She landed on rowing – a sport that allowed her newfound ability, to lead through optimism, to shine.

Youth National Rowing Champions

“Patients who have family support and fully participate in their rehab give themselves the best chance of recovery,” said Dr. Leslie who advises anyone who suffers a traumatic injury to make sure they are in the best place for their specific needs and get as much support as possible.

As for Hannah, she has completely recovered with no physical trace or lingering symptoms from her fall. She continues to take a leadership role in her team defeating some of the best crews in the country and remains grateful to Dr. Leslie and his team for enabling her to have this life.