Since middle school, Hanna Bordage dreamed of being a doctor because of her love of science and the TV show Grey’s Anatomy.
Almost a year ago, the Grade 12 student was talking to her best friend at École Sainte-Anne in Fredericton about how she hoped to get some sort of sign about her chosen career path. “Something that would happen for me to say, ‘This is what I need to do,’ ” said the 17-year-old.
Then tragedy struck, and her life would be forever intertwined with Alex Nelson, another Fredericton teen.
On Jan. 8, 2020, Fredericton was hit with a major storm. The roads were slippery and snow was coming down hard.
Bordage, who was 16 at the time, stayed at school late to talk about a Spanish class with one of her teachers. This was a typical occurrence for the straight-A student.
Minutes after leaving the school, Bordage lost control of the black Honda she was driving and struck 18-year-old Nelson. He was walking near the corner of Prospect Street and Duncan Lane, where there are no sidewalks.
Bordage was driving below the speed limit and had swerved to the middle of the road to try to avoid Nelson, but it was too late.
“It happened so quickly,” she said. “It was one second.”
That day, Nelson was wearing an army-green jacket that Bordage says she can still see. When she struck Nelson, his body hit her windshield and landed in the ditch a few feet away.
She called 911.
“The thing that bothered me the most about the accident was the fact I couldn’t do anything,” she said in an interview.
Police are on the scene of a pedestrian/vehicle collision on Prospect St. at Duncan Lane, which occurred at3:05 p.m. <a href=”https://twitter.com/CityFredPolice?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@cityfredpolice</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/CityFredFire?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@cityfredfire</a> and <a href=”https://twitter.com/ANB_EMP?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@ANB_EMP</a> responded.
Before paramedics arrived, Bordage jumped out of her car and started waving down traffic to get help, but she felt useless.
“I never want to feel like I don’t know what to do.”
‘I nearly died’
The crash left Nelson, now 19, with a serious brain injury, and he spent a month fighting for his life at the Saint John Regional Hospital.
From there, Nelson spent another month at the Stan Cassidy Centre for Rehabilitation in Fredericton, where he worked on his recovery. This included everything from speech therapy to regaining his memory and balance. He still does rehabilitation work at home.
And he still lives with severe pain in his legs and shoulder from the impact of the crash. He gets frequent headaches and his vision has deteriorated. His right eye is permanently shut.
His speech is muffled, so his mother, Terri Taylor, often has to speak on his behalf.
Nelson also struggles with memory loss. All he remembers about the day he was struck is that his mom and a friend told him it wasn’t safe to walk outside. But he had walked that route so many times before, he persuaded them it would be OK.
“That’s when my memory stops,” he said.
The teen’s memory started to creep back during his stay at the Saint John hospital in January, although it’s still spotty.
He remembers relearning to walk and visiting the Tim Hortons coffee shop inside the hospital.
Bordage often visited in those early days, but he doesn’t remember that.
Although doctors say it will take him years to recover, Nelson tries to stay positive. He and his family have moved because their home was a constant reminder of the crash, which happened nearby.
Right now he works at Shannex, a retirement home in Fredericton, where he cleans, does laundry and works in the kitchen. Someday, Nelson hopes to attend Dalhousie University to become a marine biologist.
And he goes for walks on trails near his new home in Forest Hill.
“I am a very lucky person in a lot of ways,” he said. “All the right people were there at the right time … I nearly died.”
There weren’t any criminal charges following the crash.
An unlikely friendship
The accident clarified Bordage’s career plans. In December, she was accepted into the pre-med program at University of Moncton.
Nelson was one of the first people she told.
“I’m glad she got the inspiration even though it was an unfortunate circumstance,” he said.
“She’s going to do big things.”
Bordage also visited Nelson after school, when he was recovering at the Stan Cassidy Centre. They spent most of their time talking in the cafeteria, especially about graduation and what he planned to do after he left the centre.
She also attended a family picnic over the summer to celebrate Nelson’s high school graduation.
“I don’t see him, how I saw him in the snow after the accident,” she said. “I really see Alex as … an ambitious person. He’s a fighter. He’s brave. He’s forgiving.”
The pair and their families still keep in touch about Nelson’s recovery.
And Bordage plans to see Nelson before she heads to school in the fall.
“When I’m not texting him, I’m definitely thinking about him and his family.”
Bordage was reluctant to visit Nelson immediately after the crash, so she sent him cream-coloured rosary beads.
“It was a way to stay positive and keep faith,” she said. “I thought that could make me and Alex close.”
He never let go of them, and Nelson says those rosary beads are still tucked away in a box in his bedroom.
The two families continue to trudge through Nelson’s recovery together, providing updates through Facebook or text message.
“I’ll always remember Alex,” Bordage said.