What was supposed to be a joyous vacation, celebrating their recent marriage turned into a nightmare after local soccer coach Joe Fernicola and his wife Claire suffered serious injuries from a freak accident at their hotel.
Joe is well-known in the Bradford and Newmarket community as 'Coach Joe' for the Little Kickers children's soccer program.
After having to delay their nuptials multiple times in 2020 due to COVID, the couple ended up getting married in a private ceremony in Jamaica on Aug. 9, with their honeymoon booked for the end of October in the Riviera Maya, Mexico.
Ten days into their two-week honeymoon on Nov. 3, the couple were casually walking through the hotel lobby's slick marble floor, when they hit a wet spot, and hit the ground - hard!
The hotel staff had been actively mopping up the lobby throughout the week after being hit by Hurricane Zeta on Oct. 26 and left soaked in water.
"After the hurricane came through, they (staff) were literally squeegeeing the floor for days and days," described Joe.
"I have very little recollection of what actually happened, my mind has just blanked it out," he said about the fall, "it was a freak accident, there's no other way to describe it."
The couple was immediately transported to the nearby hospital, where Joe was put into emergency back surgery, and Claire received 12 stitches on her head after cracking her skull open.
"She has 12 stitches still healing, in the (medical) report they actually said they could see her skull, but there was no concussion," said Joe.
In surgery, Joe received nine screws and 30 staples in his back. He also fractured his ribs, punctured his right lung and shattered his L3 vertebrae. He had to stay in the hospital for a total of 12 days, including four in the ICU.
"I couldn't even feed myself, my wife had to feed me," explained Joe about how bad his injuries were.
Thankfully Claire was able to stay at the hospital with her husband, where she was allowed to visit his room four times a day for 15-minutes to assist him with eating.
One of the most frustrating parts of the ordeal the couple noted was the hospital staff who would not tend to the couple's injuries until proof of insurance was provided.
"It's not like here where they just treat you and figure it out afterwards," he shared.
Their insurance covered Joe's hospital stay, medical expenses and return trip home but did not cover Claire's $150 per night hospital stay.
Now that they are back at home, they are facing thousands of dollars in expenses associated with Joe's recovery, including specialist appointments, medications, medical equipment, and special transportation.
COVID has put a financial strain on the couple already, with Joe only able to hold his soccer programs at 25 percent capacity since reopening on July 4, and Claire on a visitor's visa from England, currently unable to work.
As of Nov. 1, Little Kickers has had to cancel classes due to venues being shutdown in York Region but is hoping the program can reopen again in February, depending on the status of the pandemic.
Joe is continuing to recover at home in Newmarket and is getting better as each day passes but there is still a long road ahead.
It's been just over five weeks since the accident, with an estimated full recovery in three to six months with regular physiotherapy.
"I can walk with a walker and able to do short distances without my walker now but I can't stand up without help," he said.
Joe has a wheelchair he uses around the house but is unable to get in and out of it without help. Luckily, the couple live in a bungalow and Joe is able to get around in his chair fairly easily.
He also has a back brace he has to wear and is on four different pain medications.
Friends and family have been helping the couple the best they can, running errands or dropping off food. Joe is still not able to drive and to go anywhere, requires a mid-size vehicle that he can easily get into without bending or climbing.
Despite the current situation, Joe remains positive and says it has been a good reminder of the things we take for granted every day, like going to the grocery store or taking a shower on our own.
"It gets a little easier every day," said Joe, "it's just slow and frustrating sometimes."
"My wife's been amazing, I can't tell you enough, she's been amazing throughout this whole thing," he said.
Over the next few weeks, Joe is hoping to transition from his walker to a cane and is looking at doing hydrotherapy sessions in Vaughan to help aid in his recovery.
A Go Fund Me page has been set up to help the couple with their associated recovery costs and has already received almost $16,000 of its $25,000 goal.
The couple is so grateful for the support they have received from the community so far. Claire wrote a note thanking everyone for their assistance during this difficult time.
"Your donations no matter how small will not only ensure that Coach Joe is able to receive the treatment he needs, it will give him back his independence, his future and will guarantee the future of his soccer program across York Region to help teach the children so many valuable life skills like confidence, listening, agility, coordination, colours, numeracy, social skills and balance."