Tuesday 6 December 2016

Made of iron... How Janet Evans overcame injury

When Jane Evans went snowboarding with her husband, she was full of excitement. But she tells how the holiday turned into a nightmare when she lost control of her snowboard and had to be rescued by helicopter

Joy Orpen

Published 06/07/2015 | 02:30

Jane Evans who overcame a number of obstacles to complete an Ironman. Photo: Tony Gavin
Jane Evans who overcame a number of obstacles to complete an Ironman. Photo: Tony Gavin

When Jane Evans (35) was airlifted off a French mountain, she had no idea it would take many arduous months to heal the damage. But her sheer determination would play a pivotal role in her recovery.

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Jane who grew up in Delgany, Co Wicklow, obtained an arts degree from UCD before heading to New York, landing two days before 9/11. "We were in New Jersey, when we saw the second tower come down," she remembers. "We had intended to go there that day, but we couldn't make it."

She says one of the most difficult aspects of the aftermath was seeing photographs of people who were still missing on the walls of the subway.

"I just wanted to get home," she says.

Back in Ireland, she met Adam Kelly, a gym instructor and personal trainer, and they have been together ever since. In 2004, Jane gave up working in the PE department of a special-needs school, and went back to college to do a teaching degree. In July 2011, she and Adam married and soon after, she began teaching at a primary school in Co Wicklow.

The following February, this pair of seasoned skiers headed for the French Alps, where they had a most terrifying experience.

"It was a beautiful day in Chamonix," Jane recalls. "The sun was shining. So we decided to go to the top of the mountain, as it's good for off-piste skiing. But it isn't always open; it all depends on the weather."

When they got there, they became aware that conditions were quite icy but any fears they had were allayed, when they saw children skiing. Soon after they began their snowboarding descent, Jane fell; Adam was ahead of her.

"I was travelling so fast I couldn't dig the edge of my board into the snow to slow it down," she says, the tension in her voice palpable. "When Adam turned back to take a photograph, he saw me hurtling down the mountain. He hunkered down in an effort to stop me, but I was going too fast, and then we were both tumbling."

Eventually, they came to a halt, and that's when they realised they were in serious trouble. "My leg was in a very peculiar position, and even though I have a high pain threshold, I've never experienced pain like that," Jane says.

By now it was late afternoon; the slope was deserted and there was no phone coverage. So things were bleak, until a lone skier came by. He then went down the mountain and raised the alarm. A while later, a medic arrived on skis, and he called for a helicopter.

The hovering chopper created such a strong draught that it caused one of their backpacks to go sliding down the mountain - in the same direction that Jane had been heading, before Adam intervened.

"It then disappeared out of sight," she says, with a shudder. "In hindsight, I'm happy I only suffered a badly broken leg; the main thing is, I'm still here."

Jane was winched up and into the helicopter and flown to hospital, where it was discovered her tibia (shin bone) and fibula were severely fractured. A rod was inserted from knee to ankle.

Subsequent X-rays revealed that Jane's ankle was also broken, but that repair would have to be done in Ireland. After a week in the French hospital, she flew home. Her travel insurance covered all the costs, including the helicopter rescue, medical expense, Adam's hotel, and even a hire car, so he could get to and from the hospital.

Back in Dublin, Jane was referred to consultant orthopaedic surgeon, Paul Moroney, at the Beacon Hospital, in Dublin. "I was immediately assured I would get sorted, and get back to the kind of active life I wanted," she says.

Jane then had more pins and screws inserted, this time, into her ankle.

At this point, she was severely disabled. "I had to sleep in the room downstairs; Adam had to be my nurse, and he was a very good nurse," she says. "I had to have blood thinners for a month, in case of deep vein thrombosis, as well as a heap of painkillers, and I slept with a big plastic boot on my foot."

Unsurprisingly, she was also a little spooked. "I phoned the nurses at the Beacon on the night line, for reassurance and advice on pain management," Jane volunteers. "And once the pain began to wear off, I wondered if I would ever walk properly again."

It certainly didn't help that her tibia was not healing as well as had been hoped, so she was advised to use an ultrasound bone-healing machine. As her health insurance didn't cover this, she bought one herself, and learned how to use it at home.

However, Jane was still frustrated by her slow recovery, so Adam began taking her to an indoor swimming pool. By donning a flotation suit, she was able to exercise her damaged leg, without putting weight on it. By the end of the summer, she was able to walk again, albeit with the aid of crutches.

"It was a very bad year, full of pain and ongoing physio," she recalls.

Nonetheless, Jane soldiered on. That summer (2013), she set herself an amazing goal - to take part in an Ironman competition in Lanzarote, nine months later. These competitions comprise a 3.8km swim, 180km bike ride and full marathon (42.2km). She began serious training that October with triathlon coach, Oliver Harkin. "I explained what had happened, and told him while I would never have the fastest time, I still wanted to compete," she says.

In December of last year, Jane was hit by a bad virus that laid her low for eight weeks. When she resumed hard physical activity, she found running was the most difficult discipline. But she persevered. Two months before the race, she developed tendonitis (inflammation of the tendons) and was again forced to stop running, but she improvised and worked out in the pool and on an anti-gravity treadmill.

Finally, her big day arrived. "You have to be very strong mentally to complete an Ironman," explains Jane. "After all, you are out there all day long. Some people give up, but I believed I could complete this. And I did - with hours to spare."

Adam, who had already completed the triathlon, rode out to meet his plucky, tenacious wife. He was with her when she crossed the finishing line. "At that point, I didn't feel anything," says Jane, "but about 20 minutes later, I got very emotional. Who knows where I would be today if I hadn't benefited from Mr Moroney's skilled treatment, or the wonderful support I got from Adam and my family?"

For more information, contact the Beacon Hospital, tel: (01) 293-6600

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