For Pat Henman and her daughter Maia Vezina, the 10th anniversary of their near-fatal 2013 car accident was going to be a new symbolic beginning.
Prior to this year they had marked each June 9 by going for a walk or having dinner, supporting each other and feeling lucky to be alive.
But this year, mother and daughter had decided they would give June 9 a different meaning. They would celebrate the future.
“We were not going to live in (the past) any more,” Henman told the Nelson Star. “We were going to live a new life, a new turnover of life.”
This would include continuing their work advocating against drunk driving and for victims’ rights following the accident near Cranbrook, caused by a drunk driver, that resulted in severe and longstanding injuries for both women.
But Henman and her daughter never had a chance to live this new vision of their lives. On May 26, Vezina died of an accidental drug poisoning in Nelson.
Two weeks later, Henman got up in front of a large audience in Vancouver to receive a Courage to Come Back award — an award that she and her daughter had planned to receive together.
“She was going to be by my side,” Henman says.
Addiction and a coincidence
Following the 2013 accident Vezina, who was 19 at the time, was prescribed oxycodone for pain. She took that medication for a few years with mixed results. Then doctors put her on a fentanyl patch instead.
Meanwhile over those years Vezina had five reconstructive ankle surgeries but was still in debilitating pain. Three years ago she went off all medication and began attending a variety of counselling services and pain clinics. For years she went to therapy for PTSD.
“She wasn’t a drug addict in terms of on the street,” says Henman. “This was somebody who was on prescription, who got addicted but knew she was getting addicted. But then she went off it. She went through heavy withdrawal and lived with the pain. She looked fine, but she was not.”
The plan was for mother and daughter to begin their second post-accident decade by attending a ceremony at which Henman would receive a Courage to Come Back award, presented annually by Coast Mental Health in five different categories. Henman’s award was in the category of physical rehabilitation, given to someone who has undergone extensive rehabilitation and has supported and inspired others in similar situations.
The event organizers at Coast Mental Health, not aware that June 9 was the date of Henman’s accident, scheduled the ceremonies for that day.
Henman was astounded by this coincidence.
“Why would the universe make that happen? Who could have planned this?”
Following her accident in 2013, doctors told Henman’s family they did not expect her to survive. She was in an induced coma for several weeks. She had 19 surgeries in the first week and about 25 in total, was fed intravenously for a year, and lost most of her intestines requiring her to live the rest of her life with an ostomy and further medical complications.
Vezina was in a coma for more than a week with multiple broken bones in all four limbs.
Wealthy people in the audience
Following Vezina’s death, it seemed clear at first that Henman could not go to the award ceremony in Vancouver only two weeks after such a tragedy.
But she changed her mind when she realized that the room would be “filled with 1,700 of the most affluent and influential people in Vancouver.”
This ceremony is typically attended by wealthy people with a philanthropic bent — people in a position to fund change and influence politicians in the advocacy work Henman has been doing for victims of drunk driving and stigma.
“They all have the capability to actually support people who are in need. Their whole thing is mental health and addiction. Mine is physical rehabilitation, and this looked like a perfect mix.”
A repeat drunk driving offender
In 2021 Henman published Beyond the Legal Limit, a book about her accident and her recovery. She wrote about the need for victims’ rights not just in the medical system but also in relation to the complex legal, financial, and insurance issues that arose for her after the accident.
She also volunteers as the Kootenays’ spokesperson and advocate for the national organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
Henman is a professional singer, actor and director. Earlier this year she turned the story of her accident and recovery into a stage production that she presented in several Kootenay communities.
In the production she recalls, in the chaos on the highway at the accident scene, a voice yelling, “Don’t let the cops find out I was driving!”
Shara Bakos, a repeat drunk driving offender, was drunk and driving without a licence when she struck Henman’s car. She was charged and sentenced to 2.5 years in jail and released after serving half of that, Henman says.
“And now my daughter has died because she could not handle or deal with the pain of her injuries,” says Henman. “And it’s her fault. It’s that driver’s fault. It started that day. That is why Maia is not here today. And she (Bakos) is out there living her life.”
In her work with MADD, Henman advocates for stronger sentences. She thinks Bakos should have spent 10 years in jail.
Henman is also involved with MADD in trying to convince the federal government to require anti-impaired driving technology in all cars.
A car won’t start if this equipment senses alcohol on the driver’s breath or on their hands on the steering wheel. The U.S. government has passed legislation requiring this in all new cars starting in 2027.
MADD is lobbying for the same law in Canada, and Henman is helping with that.
In an email to the Nelson Star, Transport Canada was non-committal, stating that the department is “closely monitoring the developments of impairment detection technologies in the U.S. … The department may consider regulatory initiatives in this area at some time in the future as the technology matures.”
In her acceptance speech at the award ceremony Henman thanked the medical care teams who helped her and she told the audience about her daughter’s death.
“Maia silently suffered. She was looking forward to her bright future. Sadly an evening that was meant to be a social event with two friends led to tragedy.”
She said she will continue to advocate for safe roads and to stop impaired driving, but now she’s facing another issue.
“We now add the drug crisis that our children are facing. You are here tonight because you all support ending stigmas and working towards a new day where our children will live without fear and pain.”
Her speech can be viewed at 3:32:20 at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YcU_Ml_NZqI.
In the video that presented Henman’s story to the audience at the awards ceremony, Larry Vezina talked about his wife’s commitment and stamina.
“She’s committed to making change. That’s her mission now. She’s not going to stop.”
• Maia Vezina (obituary)