Soccer Rylee Foster: Liverpool goalkeeper on ‘miracle’ recovery after car accident TV Channel
Last October Rylee Foster was involved in a car crash which, in her words, nobody should have survived.
After suffering life-threatening injuries, including breaking her neck in seven places, her football career as a goalkeeper for Liverpool couldn’t have been further from her mind.
But in just four months, with the aid of a halo device, she has been given hope of a full recovery and return to action.
The 23-year-old Canadian had been on holiday in Finland with some friends. It was the international break and she was on a high having just played a starring role in a penalty shootout victory for Liverpool in the Women’s League Cup.
The group of five were driving to the capital, Helsinki, when the weather turned. Their car hydroplaned and spun out of control. “We flipped – it wasn’t like a hot dog roll, it was like a dance in the air ordeal,” Foster told BBC Sport.
She was thrown through the windscreen after her seatbelt malfunctioned and one of her friends found her in a field “screaming hysterically and crying” in pain.
The car’s roof had collapsed. “They actually think the fact I was ejected saved my life because if I was still in the car the roof would have come down on my head,” said Foster. “No-one should have survived that accident but all five of us did.”
Taken to a local hospital for a few hours, barely conscious of what was going on, she was then transported to the capital city and separated from her friends to receive emergency spinal treatment.
Foster woke up in a neck collar with seven fractures in her neck and vertebrae, while also injuring her cheekbone, knee and lung.
“It was all pretty crazy,” she recalled. “When I was in the ambulance I was calling for my friend, I had no idea what they were saying to me or what my injuries were. I was in and out of consciousness.”
‘Trapped in a cage’
She had to wait a week before she was able to safely travel back to Liverpool.
It was there she found out her neck fractures were close to hitting her arteries which would have led to internal bleeding. Any sudden movement would have paralysed her.
“It was catastrophic, the doctor said he had never seen it this bad,” said Foster. “He said, given the injuries I had, I should not have been breathing or talking on my own.
“Football just wasn’t a thing, I was just trying to fight for a quality of life at this point.”
That’s when the decision was taken to put her in the neck halo. It was the more risky option – the alternative involved completely immobilising her head by having it plated from the back of her skull to her vertebrae – but it would give her bones a chance to heal and the possibility of a full recovery.
Foster describes the halo as like being “trapped in a cage”.
“Day one with the halo was really hard. I had never experienced that kind of pain. I couldn’t move my toes or do anything so I had to relearn how to walk again – not because I was neurologically impaired, but because I was in so much pain.”
Simple things like going to the toilet, showering and sleeping were a struggle and Foster had to rely on her sister for help – as well as turning to social media to find new ways of doing things.
“I can still have a bath still and wash my hair – we figured out ways to do that. It’s a 20-minute thing but it gets done. It’s the best part of my week!”
Following her accident, Foster has found the mental challenges even tougher.
“My personality and the way I come across is like I’m bulletproof. To see me at my worst like that, and being so vulnerable, was really hard for people,” she said.
“The first two weeks were really dark for me, I had no idea what was going to happen, but then I just became happy I was alive eventually.
“I survived something nobody should have, my injuries alone should have killed me. I had a euphoric feeling that I could not explain, but that also wore off.
“It got to the point where I was just angry and mad.”
‘I thought playing again wasn’t an option’
Yet in January, Foster got the best news she could have hoped for – that her bones were almost fully healed.
“I was in shock when they told me, I actually don’t think I have become excited yet because I’m still stuck in the halo,” she added.
Foster is due to have the neck halo removed on 1 March and will be put in a hard collar for up to three weeks as doctors still don’t know the extent of the damage to her neck.
“There might need to be corrective measures but at this point it’s looking positive. I had other injuries and it will be a long process to be stable again.
“I have got through the easy part of just waiting and now it’s the hard part of the actual physical rehabilitation.
“I get to attempt to return to football in a year’s time which is so exhilarating, I never thought that would be an option.”
However, Foster admits some aspects of her profession as a goalkeeper are some way off being possible for her physically.
“I won’t be able to hit the ground until who knows when,” she added. “Diving will be the last thing on the list! I’ve been given a year’s window as an estimate but there’s a lot to do.
“I don’t want to rush it. It’s a miracle to be here. The rollercoaster has been dark but things are looking OK now.