Mitch Lepore had no way of knowing a hike on Galiano Island would change the course of his life.
Then a 19-year-old university student, he was camping with some buddies — their third year in the same spot — when something went horribly wrong.
It happened when the friends decided to take the same jaunt as they had in past years.
“It wasn’t the smartest choice, but we were 19 and we were just living the moment,” Lepore said. “On the way down, the ground I was standing on gave way and I slid off an approximately 50-foot cliff.”
As luck would have it, a couple of first responders were in the area and “saved my life on the spot,” he said.
Lepore was airlifted to Victoria General Hospital, where he would spend the next month — part of the first two weeks in a coma.
He was full of praise for his hospital stay, which came in contrast to the “devastating” moment that he was injured.
“Everything following that was the best-case scenario,” he said. “Everything went my way following that.”
Lepore said his outlook was uncertain at the start, when his parents were told he would likely end up with significant physical and mental deficits. The critical-care and neurosurgery staffs put him on a different path, he said.
Lepore said the support of his family made a big difference, too.
He said he is thankful for all of the people at the hospital who helped him, and for the multiple doctors working on his case.
“I was in ICU, I was on the brain-trauma floor.”
He said the success of his treatment came down to the quality of the imaging equipment.
“Without MRIs and CT scans, X-rays, I would not be where I am today.”
Lepore is telling his story to bring attention to the Victoria Hospitals Foundation’s Big Picture Campaign, aimed at raising $4 million for the latest in medical-imaging technology.
VGH and Royal Jubilee Hospital see a combined total each year of about 275,000 procedures that involve medical imaging, using things like CT scanners, MRI units and specialized devices for the pediatric ward.
“I’m so humbled to be a part of this campaign,” Lepore said. “I’m so grateful for the opportunity to share my story.”
He said he is lucky to have recovered as much as he has, and hopes that relating his experience can help in the effort to generate donations.
Lepore said the damage from his fall was extensive.
“I had significant trauma to my brain,” he said. “I had some pretty aggressive swelling in my brain and bleeding in my brain.”
He also had a skull fracture.
CT scans were vital and showed progress that led doctors to decide against a risky procedure that was being considered.
“Advanced imaging like CT scans gives us a window of opportunity to intervene and save lives,” said Dr. Lorne Porayko, who was part of Lepore’s care team.
Lepore came a long way at VGH, but still had a lot to work on.
“I was speaking, I was walking, but everything was on a very limited basis,” he said. “I was still very, very far removed from my previous self.”
After his hospital stay, he went to live with his parents in Tsawwassen and made daily visits to G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre for things like physical therapy and speech therapy.
It was “pretty intense” for the first few months, Lepore said.
Details from his CT scans helped shape the ongoing treatment.
Lepore made steady progress, and decided to return to university earlier than he was told he should. He re-enrolled at the University of Calgary in January 2013 — six months after the accident.
“That was a year before I was recommended to go back to university. I was determined to go back and get my life back in order.”
Lepore went on to complete his commerce degree in 2016 at the University of Victoria.
“A large portion of that is a testament to my stubbornness,” he said. “I am so grateful for everyone that’s part of my journey since.”
Prior to the accident, Lepore said he had always relied on having a good memory, which sometimes meant not a lot of studying.
“Following this, I really had to learn how to study for the first time,” he said. “Everything has its challenges and this was no different.”
Lepore is a Victoria resident and is now working in the technology field.
“I always had the idea of wanting to be in business,” he said. “Everything just kind of falls into place sometimes.”
Donations to the Big Picture Campaign can be made online at victoriahf.ca/bigpicture, by calling 250-519-1750 or by mail at Wilson Block, 1952 Bay St., Victoria, B.C., V8R 1J8.