Today I want to share with you the touching story of a young man - Alex McEwan - who was paralyzed on his 15th birthday on December 21, 2015… just 4 days before Christmas. And while this is a heartbreaking story - it is also a story about the human spirit - and how donations to Calgary Health Trust can inspire hope and health - even in the most bleak moments of our lives.
As you read the story and get familiar with our work - I will also ask you to consider making a donation in support of our work here in Calgary. Your donation is literally the gift of health. It is the gateway to health… the difference between hope and despair… and the pathway to life’s simple but most important moments. Let me start from the beginning...
It was December 21st, 2015 and it was also Alex’s 15th birthday. With just four days to Christmas, Alex and his friends decided to celebrate by going tobogganing. They were having the time of their lives. On what would be the last run, Alex spun out of control and collided with a pole - head first...
He was dazed for a minute or so… but when he gained full consciousness - he realized something was seriously wrong. He couldn’t move his legs… couldn’t feel them. He screamed… in disbelief of what was happening to him. And in the chaotic moments that ensued, Alex could see his friends moving around frantically trying to make sense of the event. He could hear them notifying emergency paramedics and then his parents…
In his condition, he just couldn’t piece together what was truly happening. In a flash of a second, he had gone from a happy-go-lucky kid, to someone facing the biggest uncertainty he could ever imagine. On his birthday, 4 days before Christmas, he would become paralyzed from the chest down.
You can try to imagine just how this tragic incident would affect this young man for the rest of his life. Alex braced himself for what would come - uncertain how he would cope with the severe limitations placed on him by this injury. He was: an athlete, and a competitive one at that; an aspiring soldier; a pipe band major, top of his class, and a social butterfly, like every 15 year old who enjoyed just hanging out with his buddies. He wondered how much his life would change. But as much as he worried about himself - Alex worried about his family. Trauma and illness go beyond just the patient.
Alex’s parents, his two younger siblings, his countless number of extended family members, his friends, teammates, classmates and people throughout the community were distraught to hear the news. Every time someone experiences trauma or sickness, a community of people are impacted! Alex was keenly aware of how much his condition impacted his family. “My parents helped to focus my energy into the right place.” He said, “We set health goals and I continued my studies while at the hospital.”
Alex is not your average guy in any way possible. His sense of resolve and determination is inspiring. While receiving treatment, Alex worked hard on his high school education to make sure he wouldn’t lose much more time. And despite being wheelchair bound, he went back to the cadets as soon as he could and served for another year. He was determined to not let the accident define his life.
“I wanted to be an inspiration to my younger brothers - and I wanted my parents to look at me with pride. It was the biggest test in my life and somehow I knew I had to dig deep and find a way to triumph.” Two-and-a-half-years after the accident, Alex graduated in time with his classmates. And despite paralysis - Alex walked across the stage...
The walk across the stage was made possible by wearable robotic device called the exoskeleton, which allows patients with paralysis to stand and walk by shifting their weight. Alex had been one of the first individuals in Calgary to get access to the device as part of a research project at Foothills Medical Centre.
"Calgary Health Trust donors GAVE me the chance to walk across the stage for my graduation. It was my most cherished moment knowing that my parents were so proud of me,” Alex explains.
And the outcome… The moment where Alex could look down and watch his dad and mom beam with pride… the moment where the audience - his friends, classmates, and his brothers cheered with awe… where teachers wiped away tears of happiness and jubilation… it was a defining moment - a milestone of epic proportions! It was Alex’s proudest moment since the accident three years ago. It signaled that he had reached a major life milestone and despite being paralyzed, he was going to live his life on his own terms. The accident wouldn’t hold him back.
On December 21st, 2018, Alex will celebrate his 18th birthday. He will also celebrate his 18th Christmas together with his brothers, his friends and his community here in Calgary and in Lethbridge where he is attending university. And with all special moments - the memory of walking on the stage at his graduation will stand out one of his most cherished milestones.
It was a moment that made everything else seem possible. That moment... is a gift that I cannot put into words… Except to say ‘thank you’ - for your steadfast support and belief in our work and for giving people like Alex, special moments to cherish for life.
Happy and Safe Holidays,
Chris Eagle, MBA,MD
President & CEO
Calgary Health Trust
P.S. Please support Calgary Health Trust with a generous donation today. Click here to make your final gift for 2018.
P.P.S. Make sure to send in your gift before December 31st, to be eligible for a tax deductible receipt for 2018.