Warning: This story contains descriptions and images of serious injuries.
A Regina woman says she was seriously hurt during a vacation in the Dominican Republic last week, causing injuries and excruciating pain that sent her to hospital — and leaving the planned opening of her business next month in limbo.
Mackenzie Wilker says the trip to Playabachata resort in the Caribbean hot spot started out as “a story to tell our children,” after her now-fiancé proposed at a beachfront gazebo on Dec. 31.
But she says their trip turned into a “horrendous” nightmare on Jan. 2., when she was injured during a competitive game for couples at the resort.
Videos of the incident reviewed by CBC News show Wilker bent over a chair on a stage, while her fiancé, Bryton Athmer, stands behind her, trying to pop a balloon between their bodies.
Three male resort staffers then run into Athmer all at once, the video shows, pushing Wilker’s hips forward into an unnatural position while her knees remain locked against the edge of the seat.
“Immediately I felt pain in my knees. I didn’t feel it in my hip at all at first, I was on such an adrenaline high.… But when they all got off me, I was honestly like stuck in the chair,” she said.
WATCH | Video shows moment Regina woman says she was injured in resort game:
Video shows moment when Sask. woman says she was injured in resort gameMackenzie Wilker says she was injured when she and her fiancé, Bryton Athmer, were taking part in a competitive couples’ game at a resort in the Dominican Republic.
“There were tears in my eyes.… I’m holding my knees, telling [staff] I’m hurt, and they just laughed and continued on.”
Doctors in Regina later concluded Wilker likely has tissue damage in her back and hips, according to medical records reviewed by CBC News. She also has a possible herniated disk that may require surgery once an MRI confirms the extent of the damage.
Wilker has formally complained to Sunwing, alleging neither the vacation company nor the resort helped her get medical care for the injuries that sent her to the emergency room at Regina’s Pasqua Hospital on Tuesday, and have left her unable to work or even walk unassisted.
Wilker says her knee was bruised and in serious pain immediately after the injury, but she didn’t realize her back and hips were injured until after the adrenaline wore off later that night. (Submitted by Mackenzie Wilker)She says the injuries have also put her plans to open a home-based daycare in limbo, as she’s unsure she’ll be well enough to care for the five children signed up to start on Feb. 1.
In a Jan. 10 email to Wilker, a Sunwing customer relations representative said the company takes such issues “very seriously” but is not responsible for what happened at Playabachata.
“Sunwing Vacations does not own or operate this hotel, therefore, it is difficult to be able to respond to issues that occur in the care of our suppliers,” said the email.
An emailed statement sent to CBC by Sunwing Wednesday afternoon confirmed the company is liaising with the resort to investigate the incident and said, “[we] sincerely regret the customer’s experience.”
Since the incident is still being reviewed, the company said it is “unable to comment further at this time.”
Playabachata had not responded to a detailed list of questions from CBC by deadline.
Resort, Sunwing offered little help, says injured womanWilker says there was no doctor on duty when she was hurt, but shooting pain in her hips and lower back began as she was trying to find a comfortable position to sleep later that night.
“I instantly started screaming in pain. Something popped and my whole leg just cramped up,” said Wilker.
“We just laid there and I said, ‘I’m frightened — like, I think I really need medical attention.'”
The next morning, she couldn’t access her insurance information because there was no Wi-Fi and weak cell reception at the resort, she said, and an on-site Sunwing representative told Wilker she couldn’t help.
Playabachata eventually called a doctor, said Wilker. He told her she could go to the hospital for X-rays but needed her insurance information first, she said. She was also given a shot in her buttocks, but says she doesn’t know what it was and it didn’t help.
Fearing they might miss their flight home the next morning or get stuck with a hefty bill, Wilker didn’t go to the hospital in the Dominican Republic. Staff at the resort denied her request for a wheelchair, she said, and Athmer carried her to meals because he wasn’t allowed to bring her food.
She landed in Regina on Jan. 4. The next morning, a doctor confirmed her injuries were serious and ordered her not to work for nearly three weeks, according to records shared with CBC News.
Wilker and fiancé, Bryton Athmer, are pictured celebrating their engagement on Dec. 31. They recently bought and are renovating a home so she can run a home-based daycare, but Wilker says those plans are uncertain after her injury. (Submitted by Mackenzie Wilker)”Sitting down, standing up, laying down — there’s no area where I’m comfortable,” said Wilker. “I ended up in the hospital from the pain. My legs were completely numb, my back hurt so bad, I had two heating pads going and I was not getting any relief.”
An emergency room doctor prescribed her potent pain medications, and she said she has also been referred to a neurologist and for an MRI to determine if she needs surgery.
Wilker says her chiropractor told her that rehabilitation, including physiotherapy, massage and time off work, will likely be expensive.
“It’s hard because I’ve always wanted to get married … and I’m really excited,” she said.
But she’s worried about what the future holds “for my health, for my job security, for everything.”
“That’s our first and foremost — making sure we’re able to just get by.”
WATCH | Regina woman describes the ‘sexy couple’ resort game in which she was injured:
Regina woman describes the ‘sexy couple’ resort game in which she was injuredMackenzie Wilker says she was a keen competitor in stage games organized by the resort where she and her fiancé stayed in the Dominican Republic. She describes the ‘sexy couple’ game during which she says she was injured.
No Sunwing response for daysWilker has submitted two formal written complaints to Sunwing since Jan. 5, but said she did not hear back at all until Wednesday — the day after CBC News contacted the company, its parent company, WestJet, and the resort for comment.
She says she hasn’t tried to contact the resort directly because she felt they were unhelpful even when she was physically there.
“I don’t think that they are who I should talk to,” Wilker said. “I feel like Sunwing should be taking care of that. We booked exclusively through [them].”
Janet Radley with the Acadia Travel agency in Toronto says she has never heard of a vacationer being injured under similar circumstances in her 42 years as a travel agent.
She says the incident is a reminder to get medical insurance when you travel and to keep the information handy, but it’s not clear who bears ultimate responsibility when booking through a third-party company.
“Sunwing is going to say, ‘We’re not in charge of the staff,’ right? So it’s kind of like a catch-22,” Radley said in an interview. “Sunwing is going to say it isn’t responsible for the hotel staff, and the hotel is going to say injuries happen.”
Radley says Sunwing, as the company Wilker booked with, should take the matter seriously, reimburse her for at least part of her trip, and ensure the resort works directly with Wilker to find out what happened.
“I wouldn’t want to sell that resort to somebody else if that happened, because it could happen again,” she said.
Wilker says Sunwing’s response was lacklustre, and she is considering legal action if Sunwing does not cover her medical expenses and lost wages, especially as benefits from her current employer run out on Jan. 19.
“I’d like an explanation why we were unsafe and treated poorly,” she said. “I feel alone, and I feel helpless.”