As Alex Nelson lies in a dimmed room at the Saint John Regional Hospital, he grips a set of cream-coloured rosary beads.
They were a gift from Hanna Bordage, the 16-year-old girl who was driving the black Honda that struck him earlier this month near the corner of Prospect Street and Duncan Lane in Fredericton.
“Alex has not let go of it since,” said his mother, Terri Taylor.
The crash left the 18-year-old with a serious brain injury, and he spent days fighting for his life.
“I just keep trying to remind myself of the little bits of light through all this darkness,” Taylor said.
Although Taylor wishes she could go back in time and change what happened that day, she wouldn’t take back meeting the Bordage family.
The near-fatal crash on Jan. 8 sparked an unlikely friendship between the two Fredericton families, who otherwise might never have met.
The families have supported each other in Facebook messages, a joint visit to the hospital where Alex is staying and a handwritten note about forgiveness.
“We’re going to get through this together,” Taylor said.
How they met
Over the past two weeks, Taylor has used Facebook posts to keep family and friends updated on Alex’s recovery from the crash. One of the posts asked readers to pray for the driver who hit him.
That’s when Hanna decided to reach out to Alex’s family.
She sent a Facebook message to Julia, Alex’s 16-year-old sister.
You don’t know what to say. You just know you have to be there.– Joemana Bordage, Hanna’s mother
Hanna introduced herself and asked how Alex was making out in hospital and apologized over and over again for striking him.
“She didn’t mean to hurt him,” Taylor said.
The two families decided to finally meet in person.
Hanna, her mom, aunt and grandmother met over the weekend at the hospital in Saint John.
“You don’t know what to say,” said Hanna’s mother, Joemana Bordage. “You just know you have to be there.”
Hanna sat outside while her mother went into Alex’s hospital room. She wasn’t ready to meet him face to face just yet.
Both mothers understood.
Inside the hospital room
When Alex’s mother told him Hanna’s mother had come to visit, he reached out and squeezed Bordage’s hand.
Weak and unable to speak clearly, he whispered into his own mother’s ear.
He asked about Hanna.
“He is fighting for his life in a hospital bed and he is concerned about Hanna,” said Bordage, who held back tears at the time.
Then Bordage gave him Hanna’s rosary beads, which she’d received after her baptism at six months old. He weaved the beads through his fingers.
“That’s how we get through things,” said Bordage. “We pray.”‘
A snowy drive home
Hanna, a Grade 11 student at École Sainte-Anne in Fredericton, was driving home from school in a snowstorm on that day in early January.
The newly licensed driver knew the roads were poor. And Hanna’s father cautioned her to be careful and drive slowly — even if it angered other drivers. The teen even turned the music off inside her car to concentrate.
The avid soccer player and straight-A student said she was driving 20 kilometres below the speed limit when she spotted a pedestrian walking in the same direction on the side of the busy street. There aren’t any sidewalks in that area.
She swerved into the median of Prospect Street — putting herself in danger — while trying to dodge the pedestrian, who was Alex.
But it was too late. Her car hit Alex and sent him into the ditch.
Hanna immediately called 911. When paramedics arrived, Alex’s face was swollen and covered in dirt.
There was blood everywhere.
A walk to clear his head
Just before the crash, Alex told his mom he was going for a walk to Tim Hortons.
The Grade 12 Fredericton High School student battles anxiety and depression, so walking was a way to clear his head.
“The last thing I said to him was, ‘Be careful and I love you,'” said Taylor.
About 20 minutes later, she heard sirens about 100 metres from her home.
She didn’t think anything of it and drove her daughter, Julia, to work at the north-side Dairy Queen.
When she returned home, Taylor noticed her son’s black Sorel boots weren’t in the doorway.
“I had this sickening feeling consume me.”
‘Moments away from losing him’
Instinctively, Taylor ran out of the house, in her navy snowflake pyjamas and white slippers, to the accident scene, where police confirmed it was her son who had been hit.
Alex was immediately sent to the Saint John Regional Hospital. He had surgery to remove a blood clot in his brain. The surgery lasted just over an hour, but “felt like a million years,” Taylor said.
“We were just moments away from losing him.”
Taylor is adamant the crash wasn’t Hanna’s fault. In fact, she believes the teen’s quick reaction is what kept Alex from suffering more serious injury.
“She is as damaged emotionally as my son is physically,” Taylor said.
There haven’t been any criminal charges following the crash.
Alex will be staying at the hospital for several months and will move to the Stan Cassidy Centre for Rehabilitation in Fredericton after that.
Taylor and Bordage have been texting and talking over the phone — especially on the bad days. They share jokes, laugh and cry together.
“We’ll forever be family now,” Taylor said.
Alex has broken bones on the right side of his skull and his maxillary sinuses are shattered. He is relearning how to walk and eat on his own. The right side of his face is paralyzed.
In the future, Alex could struggle to walk and talk — he could even lose his memory and cognitive ability. Doctors still don’t know whether he’ll be the same person he was before the crash.
But he did manage to write his first sentence this week:
“I’ll always forgive.”
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