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Calls for new safety measures after tobogganing mishap leaves teen paralyzed
Published Sunday, January 17, 2016 5:50PM MST
Last Updated Sunday, January 17, 2016 6:38PM MST
On the day of his fifteenth birthday, a Calgary teenager suffered a life altering injury while tobogganing. Now, his family hopes their experience will result in the introduction of safety measures that may prevent others from suffering a similar ‘freak accident’.
Alex, whose surname is being withheld at his family’s request, said he had planned to stay home on the night of December 21, 2015 but friends convinced him to change his plans.
“We decided to go tobogganing,” said Alex. “We walked to the hill. We got there at around 8 o’clock. A couple runs into the night, I went down the hill and my toboggan turned.”
Alex says he wasn’t thinking of the pole at the bottom of the hill in Silver Springs until he struck it headfirst. The teenager was unable to feel his legs and, after being transported by ambulance, tests conducted in hospital confirmed that three of the vertebrae in his back had been broken.
The 15-year-old was paralyzed from the waist down.
Doctors believe Alex will likely never walk again, a fact the teen has come to accept. He’s expected to remain in hospital until late March but there are still days when the 15-year-old wakes up and half-expects to get up and walk home.
“It’s tough to know that everything you’ve done before you can’t do now,” said Alex. “You have to come to terms with things like this because, if you don’t, it’s gonna eat you up.”
Prior to the tobogganing incident, Alex, the eldest of four brothers, played high school football, was a cadet in cadet corps, and played the bagpipes. He had plans to join the Armed Forces and pursue a career as a psychologist. He believes his injuries will not hinder, but actually assist him in, his new goal of becoming a psychologist in a civilian capacity.
“I think that will actually help me do that because it’s a lot easier for someone to relate to someone who has been through a traumatic experience.”
Stella and John, Alex’s parents, say it’s been difficult to see their son suffer but they have no regrets about the events of December 21 and they’ll continue to offer Alex every opportunity to be successful in life.
“We firmly believe that you can’t live life in a bubble,” said Stella. “It’s unfortunate that it was our son but we also worry about the next kid.”
“We hope no other family has to get that phone call,” echoed John.
The family would like signs posted at the hill either warning of sledding dangers or directing people to safer areas.
“Something to make somebody think,” said John. “We’re not saying (Alex) and his pals wouldn’t have walked around the sign and gone down anyway but they are reasonable kids.”
“Maybe I would have looked at a sign and said ‘Maybe this isn’t a good idea’,” said Alex. “It will make someone think before they go.”
Ward 12 councillor Shane Keating says it’s unlikely the City would implement a method for marking hazards at individual hills or posting signs as the City could find itself liable for scenarios across Calgary. Keating suggests Calgarians visit the City of Calgary’s list of registered toboggan hills that have been deemed safe.
“There are a number of hills within the City of Calgary and we ask everyone to please go to the website, check them out, use your discretion,” said Keating. “We’re very sympathetic to any child or adult who gets injured on a hill.”
Keating says the City is not out to ban people from sledding on unregistered hills but Calgarians should check for dangers prior to sliding.
“We have hills in Calgary that are just not safe. They’re too steep, they have rocks on them,” explains Keating. “We don’t want to get anybody in trouble over tickets and I don’t know if anyone has ever been ticketed per se.”
“It’s more or less just look at the hill and see if it’s safe.”
A Rally 4 Alex! GoFundMe page has been created to help the family with the costs associated with purchasing a wheelchair and modifying their home and vehicles to accommodate Alex’s wheelchair.