Our Sisters – Sr. Gabriel Mary
God Willed Me Back to Life
Sr. Gabriel Mary Riddle is a former physiotherapist and pastoral worker with experience in her native Canada and in South Africa. In 1992 she began teaching at Francis Libermann Catholic High School in Toronto.
Christmas 1998 … the usually busy teacher was looking forward to a week-long break together with two other sisters at the community’s cottage. Little did she dream that God had a very different plan for her. On December 30, she was driving along the highway that leads to Parry Sound. “I wanted to get gas and see if I could find a funny video that we might watch on New Year’s together. My car went into a dip near Horseshoe Lake and, before I realized what was happening to me, it skidded on black ice. I crashed into an 18-wheeler transport truck and on impact was thrown into a swamp.”
Sr. Gabriel Mary was unconscious and “dead” at the scene. Her heart had stopped. The truck driver remembers, “We could not find her car, it was so embedded in the swamp.” Fortunately, there was an air ambulance helicopter just overhead travelling south. It was heaven-sent in the truest sense of the word. The pilot saw the car and landed, vertically, from the sky into the swamp. The only thing that was left somehow intact in the car was the seat in which Sister was sitting, unconscious and ‘dead’ as far as anyone could tell. They resuscitated her and with the, help of the Jaws of Life peeled the metal off her. The front, back and sides of the car were crushed on top of her, so it took them 45 minutes to get her out. Once her heart had started working again she was put on a respirator and flown to Toronto.
At Sunnybrook Hospital she was admitted to the trauma unit where the specialists set to work on her. Her case file reads like a page from the doomsday book: scalp lacerations – traumatic injury to the parietal and occipital areas of the right brain resulting in cognitive impairment and double, blurred vision; segmented fractures of the right humerus; both legs initially paralyzed with resulting left leg weakness and ankle drop.
After two years Sr. Gabriel Mary summarized her situation somewhat laconically, “On the Glasgow Coma Scale I rated 10 out of 15, with 15 meaning dead.” Did she have a chance at all? Yes, with combined prayer, medical expertise and excellent rehab care she did stand a chance of at least partial recovery. Gradually, she regained consciousness but suffered complete loss of memory for 5 weeks. The journey back to the full use of her faculties would be slow and painful. She remembers putting things and people together in her brain. Her vision started to come back. It was unsure whether her right arm could be saved at all but her right leg started to move again and her left one was braced. Most amazingly all cognitive tests were such that she was able to resume part-time teaching within 8 months.
For the next two years Sr. Gabriel Mary was in and out of hospital for ongoing rehab.
Against all odds, she then returned to teaching full time at an Alternative school, for students who were returning to high school after an absence due to socio-economic issues, to set up a Biology Department.
After a Sabbatical in Berkeley California, she was asked to return to South Africa to manage Ikhwezi Lokusa, a rehabilitation and development centre for 64 intellectually and/or physically disabled young adults in the Eastern Cape Province.
Upon returning to Canada in January 2013, she has been coordinating a women’s discernment residence in downtown Toronto and carrying out a part-time parish ministry … which all goes to show that when God acts with his healing powers, God truly acts … for all things are possible with God.
(Excerpts taken from Sr. Annette Buschgerd’s interview of Sr. Gabriel Mary)