Grand Chief Stewart Phillip is happy to be alive after a horrendous car accident last Friday night near Hope, but it will be months before he makes a full recovery.
Phillip remains hospitalized at Penticton Regional Hospital with injuries including a fractured and chipped right ankle, a cracked left knee cap and fractured tibia on the left side and a cracked sternum.
"I am incredibly busy and mobile, so to be lying here in this bed unable to continue my work is really frustrating," he said. "At the same time I am so grateful to still be here and also greatly overwhelmed by the outpouring of love from so many different people."
Phillip was driving home from Vancouver to Penticton on Highway 3, when the accident took place 24 kilometres east of Hope.
He was returning from attending the 23rd annual Women's Memorial March and readying to celebrate Valentine's Day with his wife Joan Phillip.
"I was looking forward to the weekend, to Valentine's dinner with Joan when I hit black ice," he said. "It was over in a heartbeat, I hit the rocks and there was no opportunity to slow down before the very harsh and brutal impact."
The next thing he recalls is a kaleidoscope of darkness, light, smoke and glass.
"I was in the centre of that, getting banged around so harshly that it had the potential to be fatal," he said. "I thought am I going to die? Is this it?"
His 2003 Chevy Tahoe ended up upside down on its roof, with Phillip hanging upside down in the seatbelt.
He remembers total silence.
"At that point I realized I was still alive but not sure how badly injured I was," he said. The first thing I did was wiggle my fingers, and I felt excruciating pain in my right ankle, left knee and sternum. My biggest fear was I was upside down in the creek."
As he struggled in his snow filled vehicle to disentangle himself from the seatbelt, a man showed up and said he would go get help.
The man left and several more people came to his aid.
But just as they assembled around the vehicle, a semi truck started sliding toward them.
The people started running and panicking, while Phillip remained tangled in his seatbelt.
"I was thinking I survived the initial impact, but here is this truck sliding toward me," he said. "At the last minute he let off his brake and hurtled through the accident scene.'
People at the scene organized traffic control, and a woman with first aid training from the Skeetchestn Indian Band, climbed in the car, undid his seatbelt and got him out.
"As I lay on the road covered in a blanket she kept me focused, thinking about my grandchildren and asking me to name them," he said. "I was in shock, violently shaking and she got down on the road and laid beside me until the ambulance got there. I am very grateful to her. She's a total angel."
Phillip spent the night in Hope before being transported to Penticton, where he has remained since in a hospital bed surrounded by flowers and balloons.
Because his injuries are not confined to one part of his body, he is unsure of when he will be released.
For now he is spending his days responding to hundreds of messages from well-wishers. In addition to family members keeping him company, there is a stuffed monkey by his side.
The stuffed animal with a dozen roses in its arms was a Valentine's Day gift for his wife.
"When I went to the hospital in Hope, the roses, the monkey and I all went in the ambulance," he said.