I pulled this one down from our local Base newspaper, The Lookout, www.lookoutnewspaper.com
Some choices come at a high price
Jason Youmans Staff writer
We live and die by the choices we make.
John Westhaver knows this better than most, and brought his story of tragedy, hope and the power of choice to CFB Esquimalt last week. His two lectures were part of Vehicle Equipment Services (VES) MSE Safety Section’s "Drive to Stay Alive" program.
"I am living proof of what happens when choices go wrong," he said.
Westhaver was the sole survivor of a gruesome 1994 car crash that claimed the lives of three close friends a week before their high school graduation in St. Stevens, New Brunswick.
After a Friday night of playing pool and enjoying a few beers, the group piled into a car and headed for home with music blasting. The driver, who stayed sober that night, was doing 140 kilometres an hour on a road with a posted speed limit of 90 km/h. He lost control of the car and it flipped violently.
The driver was thrown from the car and died instantly when he hit the pavement. The car continued to roll, eventually coming to rest against a telephone pole, and then ignited in a ball of flame.
Westhaver escaped from the burning wreckage. His remaining two friends did not.
The accident left him with life-threatening burns to 75 per cent of his body. His injuries were so severe doctors put him in an induced coma for a month so they could operate on his wounds without causing him excruciating pain.
When doctors finally allowed him to emerge from his coma, Westhaver was faced with the harsh realities of the accident.
"I remember lying beside the tub they used to soak my dressings in before they changed them, just crying because I just didn’t want to do it anymore," Westhaver told his audience at the Rutherford Theatre. "I looked at my nurses, and they were crying too."
However, Westhaver assured his audience, the physical pain from the burns was more bearable than the mental anguish he felt.
"When I found out that Jason [Westhaver’s best friend] was dead, I thought my life was over," he said.
Not only had he lost his friends, he now had to come to terms with a body he didn’t recognize.
"Who’s going to look at me? Who’s going to want to look at me? Who’s going to love me?" were questions Westhaver contemplated as he stared at the ceiling above his hospital bed.
"This wasn’t my choice. But it was my new reality. My choices were taken away from me."
Nevertheless, he has turned this tragedy into personal triumph, using the experience as the foundation for a poignant presentation on stepping up and making the right decisions in our lives, and accepting who we are.
Three years ago, his occupational therapist noticed his positive outlook on life despite the burns that scarred his face and body, and suggested he share his experiences with others.
Westhaver joined the Toastmasters club to learn public speaking techniques, and soon found himself delivering presentations to burn victims through the Fire Fighters Burn Fund. From there he connected with ICBC, which helped arrange speaking engagements at schools.
Today, Westhaver runs his own small public speaking company and has travelled as far as Connecticut to deliver his message to young people about the importance of making good choices in their lives.
"All it would have taken is one of us in the car to speak up and say ’hey Jimmy, slow down.’ But no one did."
Westhaver tells his audiences that while everyone is responsible for making their own choices, the repercussions from those choices trickle down to affect many people.
In one of the most moving moments of the presentation, he spoke about the bystanders who found the burning car and tried to help.
"Imagine what it was like being the guy who tried to pull Jason out of the car, and not being able to do it, to have to sit there on the side of the road and watch these two kids burning to death," he said.
Westhaver was invited to speak on base by WO Sandra Morency of VES in the hope that his story might help avert accidents such as the 2002 accident on Esquimalt Road that claimed the lives of three young reservists.
Despite surgery that continues to this day, Westhaver uses his accident as a motivating force in his life.
"You just live with it and move on," said he. "I’ve been put in a position where I can teach people. There are always choices you can make."
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06-23-2004, 11:47 AM #1
- Join Date
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This Comes Timely In View Of Some Recent EventsIf you don't do it RIGHT today, when will you have time to do it over? (Hall of Fame basketball player/coach John Wooden)
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Get it up. Get it on. Get it done!
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06-23-2004, 02:06 PM #2
wow, he is lucky i don't think i could be that positive after an ordeal like that. i think that what he said was true your choices efect everyone.
Last edited by SFDbabyphat; 06-23-2004 at 02:08 PM.
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