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‘She kept him alive’: Heyden crash victim’s wife grateful for help

'When my husband was hit, this lady out of nowhere sat with my husband until the ambulance got there. She talked to him and kept him alive and awake.' That nurse was Jennifer McMaster, a manager of clinical operations at the GHC
Consoling her husband Denis at the Sault Area Hospital, Tessie Roberts is thrilled with how far her partner has come since nearly dying in a car accident just north of Heyden on Feb. 3, 2023.

A devastating collision that took place just north of Heyden last month brought out the best in human nature.

Denis Roberts, a 41-year-old Sault man and subcontractor at Algoma Steel, was driving north on Highway 17 to Rupert Acres to pick up his co-worker on the morning of Feb. 3.

Shortly after 8 a.m. on that chilly day, Roberts was involved in a multivehicle collision at a major bend just past Heyden.

According to his wife Tessie, the vehicle was t-boned, and Roberts was left with life-threatening injuries.

“He was transported to Sudbury that night,” she recalls. “They removed his spleen, he had multiple brain bleeds, his C6 and C7 vertebrae were broken, he had broken ribs, and a collapsed lung.”

Roberts spent more than ten days in Sudbury before being transported to the Sault Area Hospital on Feb. 14.

He’s been in the ICU ever since.

“His collar bone, shoulder blades, and neck remain broken,” Tessie says.

In the last several weeks, Tessie Roberts was connected on social media with a woman named Jennifer McMaster – a Group Health Centre (GHC) nurse who was at the scene of the accident.

“When my husband was hit, this lady out of nowhere sat with my husband until the ambulance got there,” Roberts says. “She talked to him and kept him alive and awake.”

Now a manager of clinical operations at the GHC, McMaster says she drove up to the accident moments after it happened.

“Because I live in Goulais River, I travel highways on a regular basis,” McMaster explains. “I stop for any accident; I don’t even think about it. It wasn’t a decision I made – it was a reaction.”

“I had never seen an accident as bad as this one.”

Wanting to make sure everyone involved was okay, McMaster approached the first vehicle she saw which had a grandmother and her grandchild involved.

Not seeing any significant injuries, McMaster took the two to her vehicle to get them warmed up and made sure they were looked after before proceeding to the next car.

That’s when she discovered Roberts.

“Everything around Denis was squished except his driver’s seat,” she says. “You could open the driver’s door normally and his legs and seat were intact. It was like he was kept safe or something.”

“When I saw him, he had a fixed gaze, and I knew he wasn’t moving. Very quietly in his ear, I said, ‘my name is Jennifer, you were in a really bad car accident, but I want you to know there’s a lot of people here to help you, I want you to stay calm and awake, and there’s help on the way.’”

“I didn’t feel like there was anything else I could do for him.”

But according to Denis’ wife, McMaster did more than enough.

“What she did is amazing,” Roberts says. “Not everyone’s like that. Maybe if it wasn’t for her, he would have died. But her talking with him may have kept him going inside his head.”

“He had brain damage and a broken neck – he shouldn’t have survived.”

“I know from being a nurse and in palliative care, one of the last things to go is your hearing, so I always think of that,” McMaster adds. “They might be unconscious, but somewhere in their mind, maybe they can hear you.”

Five weeks after the accident occurred, Roberts is pleased with how far her husband of 16 years has come.

“To see how far my husband has come is nothing short of a miracle,” she says.

“His speech is slowly returning, and his memory isn’t great, but he’s walking with the assistance of a walker now.”

“He has no recollection of the accident.”

Unsurprisingly, Denis is expected to be in the hospital for at least the next couple of months as his road to recovery is anticipated to be a long one.

But there’s always room for humour in the Roberts family.

“Denis jokes around and points to his neck brace and says, ‘it’s a pain in the neck,’” Roberts laughed.

“He’s always been my strength, and now that this has happened, I’ve had to be his strength. It’s been nothing but a rollercoaster.”

Both Denis and Tessie called McMaster earlier this week to thank her for the assistance she provided on that unimaginable morning north of Heyden.

“It was nice to hear Denis’ voice,” McMaster says. “They’ve been keeping me in the loop which is nice.”

Visiting her husband every afternoon, Roberts remains incredibly grateful to witness her soulmate making a comeback – even if its slowly and surely.

“Somebody was with him, because he shouldn’t be alive,” she says. “Where he’s at right now – I can love and accept. I don’t know where I’d be if it wasn’t for my husband.”

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Alex Flood

About the Author: Alex Flood

Alex is a recent graduate from the College of Sports Media where he discovered his passion for reporting and broadcasting
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