A woman who lost her legs in a tragic accident when she was a teenager has been struggling to find safe ways to exercise. She requires special equipment to achieve what so many of us take for granted.
The Arborg Christian Fellowship church is putting together a fundraiser on Sept. 1 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. as a way to help finish raising funds for Linda Gerritsen, who was injured in a plane crash in 1982.
“I was with a friend of mine, James. We were going to a youth retreat,” Gerritsen explained. “On our way home, we refuelled in Swan River and when we were about 20 minutes out of Swan River, we hit a whiteout over Lake Winnipegosis, and we crashed the nose and left-side of the plane. It was -21C outside. When they found me, James had passed away from hypothermia after 16.5 hours.”
The then 19-year-old Gerritsen’s feet froze while she waited to be rescued. It was a relative of James’ that found them after approximately 21 hours.
Four men from two different churches in Thompson borrowed a plane and set out in search for the missing teenagers, Gerritsen said.
They found her and took her to the hospital immediately.
She had many broken bones in her legs including her femur, her right eye was damaged by a piece of plexiglass and her heart and lungs were bruised.
“After three weeks, they had to do emergency surgery (on my legs) after gangrene set in,” Gerritsen recalled. “They had to take both my legs, which I didn’t know until I woke up, afterward.”
Now Gerritsen is trying to stay active, but says that can be very difficult.
Kathy Byjork, a family friend, is helping the church by collecting silent auction donations on behalf of Linda’s cause. So far, collective efforts have raised approximately $7,500 of their $10,000 fundraising goal. She said she’s happy to see the community supporting her new friend.
“She has a hard time exercising because she doesn’t have legs,” Byjork said. “I think it’s really good that the community has been this supportive. I’m not finished yet with trying to get more support for her. People have been really nice, donating things towards the auction.”
Gerritsen said she has put on an awful amount of weight since she lost her legs, and has so far found only one device that can help her: The Nu Step machine, a seated recumbent cross trainer.
The expensive exercise device offers a quiet, frictionless, permanent magnetic eddy current system with 10 workload levels, according to its website.
After a friend’s wife passed away from a similar condition, it was her husband and members of their congregation who had the idea to raise funds for the expensive machine for Linda.
“I have a prescription from my doctor for it,” Linda said. Since she had a stent put in her heart in 2015 due to a hereditary blocked artery, she was sent to Winnipeg’s refit centre and discovered the Nu Step machine there. She said she worked her way from five-minute workouts to 45-minute workouts.
She had found what she had been looking for.
“My husband used to be an engineer, now he’s the pastor of Arborg Christian Fellowship,” Gerritsen explained. She said that she and her husband, Maarten, have only been in the Bifrost community for about eight months. Before that, they lived in the Netherlands, where her husband is from. “After she passed away, what they did was say: you know what Linda? We don’t want the same thing to happen to you, so we’re going to get you that machine” she explained.
They are hoping that this final fundraiser will help them reach their goal of $2,500 more to make the $10,000 mark so that they can purchase Linda’s potentially live sustaining equipment.
They began raising funds in May.
“I am so humbled and shocked at the support,” Maarten said. “The Interlake really pulls together for events like this. It’s really absolutely amazing. We don’t have family ties in the area so the support means so much to us.”
With live music by the Sunshine Band, Drew Johnson and Debby Keller, the fundraiser will offer up coffee and dessert at no cost.
There will be an auction and door prizes.
“This will be the last stretch, we hope,” Maarten said. “Come out and bring your friends. It will be a great time.”
For more information, please contact Arborg Christian Fellowship at 204-376-2683.