May 31, 2018

Class of 2018: Car crash survivor triumphs over tragedy

Sara Elkady studied in her hospital bed to earn the engineering degree put on hold by a devastating highway crash
Sara Elkady
Sara Elkady Nicole Dundson

The convocation stage may as well be a mountain peak, for all the effort and determination it’s taken Sara Elkady to get there.

But get there Elkady will, using a prosthetic leg she’s had for less than nine months, and a sense of resolve and responsibility that may be the greatest legacy her parents left her, when she lost them and a sister in a devastating car wreck only a year and a half ago.

“That is what I use as my guidance in life,” explains Elkady. “I ask myself what my parents would have done in that situation and that helps me decide what to do.”

Memory of her lost loved ones a motivation

The memory of Mohamed Elkady and Hanaa Hussein and their 19-year-old daughter Salma was certainly a motivation for Elkady, after the Dec. 24, 2016 head-on crash near Pincher Creek.

Hospitalized with severe injuries, including a fractured back and neck, a punctured lung and two badly broken legs, Sara spent the first fortnight dealing with shock, pain and, most of all, grief.

But knowing it was just her and her 15-year-old sister Dina left, Elkady pushed herself to move past the terrible accident and focus on finishing the engineering degree she was only four courses away from completing.

“The first few weeks I was too weak and so drugged up, and I had so many visitors there to help and encourage me. I don't think I really started studying until February,” she recalls.

Degree finished from a hospital bed

It meant learning from her hospital bed, but with the support of the Schulich School of Engineering faculty and staff, Elkady managed to balance special classes and exams with surgery and therapy sessions: “They were behind me 100 per cent.”

Between the support of her school and the backing of friends and the community, Elkady managed to turn her hospital room into a dedicated engineering study den.

“They made such a big difference to me that if I didn't have all those people around I don't know what would have happened, honestly,” she says.

Surviving sisters a team

No one would have blamed Elkady had the injured student paused her life to mourn — but as she explains, she couldn’t let her sister down and she knows that’s what her parents would have wanted

“My sister and I are in this together as a team, and I couldn’t just give up,” says Elkady.

“It’s been a challenge to keep studying and working towards my degree, but I’m happy to be doing it, for both of us. She’s helped me get here, because we want the best for each other and we’ve become each other’s support system."

Learning to engineer — and to walk

Studying was just part of the journey, and Elkady had to learn to walk again on a prosthetic leg, having lost her damaged lower left limb in complications stemming from the crash.

She says it was more an exercise in patience than anything. “I was so impatient, because my leg was taking so long to heal and I was so eager to get back up and moving around,” she recalls.

“I could see all these people doing great, active things on their prosthetics and I wanted to do the same, but it takes time and you have to learn. So as I was learning to walk, I learned about patience too.”

Plans to help others in similar situation

It’s an experience she hopes to share with others, and as well as following her engineering goals — Elkady has already landed a post-grad job as a junior process engineer — she wants to work with other people going through the same challenge.

“It makes me feel very blessed to be able to walk again, and I’m hoping to get involved with other amputees, to help them and share my experience,” she says.

On June 5, Elkady will walk across the stage to collect the degree that will officially name her an engineer, knowing she’s already built a bright future for herself and her sister — an accomplishment her whole family would be proud of.

Mom, dad and sister Salma may not be there to watch Elkady collect her parchment, but she won’t stop thinking about them that day.

“I often take time to talk to the three of them, to give them updates on where I am and what’s happening in my life,” explains Elkady. “I’ll do the same thing on graduation day. To let them know I did it.”