Calgary teen paralyzed in toboggan accident
Alex, 15, in his hospital room where he has been since a tobogganing accident on Dec. 21 left him a paraplegic. Leah Hennel / Calgary Herald
It was Alex s 15th birthday and the Calgary teenager had a lot to look forward to. The star rugby and football player was eager to get his learner s licence and his first part-time job. Alex, a pipe major in the army cadets, was an honour roll student with dreams of attending the Royal Military College of Canada, joining the armed forces, and pursuing a career as a psychologist. But Alex s plans for the future changed in an instant last month when he went tobogganing with friends on his birthday at a popular hill in Silver Springs.
It s more than just life-altering, said Alex s mom, Stella, speaking in her eldest son s hospital room about what happened the night of Dec. 21, 2015.
While going down the northwest hill on a sled around 8 p.m., Alex hit a patch of ice, did a 360, lost control, and crashed head-on with a pole. He lost consciousness briefly. When he awoke, Alex turned to his friends.
Are my legs still there? he asked.
Yes, his friends said. Can you feel them?
No, Alex said. The teen said the realization of what that meant hit him like a freight train. Before the ambulance even arrived, he told his friends he wasn t prepared for what lay ahead.
I can t live like this, he said. I can t be a paraplegic.
Alex, 15, talks with his mom Stella and dad John in his hospital room, where he has been since a tobogganing accident last month left him a paraplegic. Leah Hennel / Calgary Herald
After nearly a month in hospital, doctors don t think Alex will ever walk again. The tobogganing mishap has left him paralyzed. He has months of physiotherapy ahead and could be in hospital, away from his parents and three younger brothers, until April.
I don t know that it computes for me yet. How do you go tobogganing one second and the next you re paralyzed? said Stella, whose surname is being withheld at the family s request. Alex and his family are sharing the story of what happened on a Calgary toboggan hill in the hopes it raises awareness and prevents a similar tragedy from ever happening again. They re urging kids and teens to check hills for hazards and think before sledding.
We re not trying to ban tobogganing. Tobogganing is a great activity. Kids going outside and doing unstructured play and risking themselves is what they should be doing. But, maybe look first, said Stella. Alex s dad John echoed those words: Take a pause for reflection. Take a look at the hill, he said.
The large hill where Alex was injured is not a city-maintained toboggan hill, but that hasn t stopped it from becoming a popular place for kids.
Everybody toboggans there, Stella said. It s the hill.
Kids of (Alex s) age group think they re invincible and indestructible. Maybe seeing, hey, it happened to a different 15-year-old, it can happen to me, might resonate with them.
This is the hill in Silver Springs where Alex, 15, hit a power pole headfirst while tobogganing. Leah Hennel / Calgary Herald
Lying in his hospital bed, covered in a camouflage-patterned blanket in a room decorated with sports jerseys, Alex said he gets upset about what happened.
It sucks. It kind of makes you feel like your future has been stolen, he said. But the intelligent kid is determined to move on and think about a new future.
We had these huge dreams for him and we still do, but they re different now, his mom said. Alex may never play football or rugby again. He ll complete his second semester of Grade 10 online, from his hospital bed, and he plans to graduate with his friends. His parents are adamant he continues to make the honour roll. Alex said he won t be able to join the military with a spinal cord injury, but he can still dream of being a psychologist.
I can t let this hold me back because if I do, I ll never forgive myself, Alex said.
I want to do something with my life. I want to contribute to society in any way I can. And more than all of that, I just want to go home.
Friends, family and strangers have rallied around Alex more than $20,000 has been raised through an online fundraiser that will help the family with medical expenses, future therapies and modifications to make the family home more accessible when Alex finally returns.