President of AASRA does not let his disability define him

Shane Westin lost his leg 31 years ago following a serious car accident, but rather than seeing it as a setback, he views it as a positive turning point in his life.

The accident happened in the summer of 1984 when Westin fell asleep at the wheel while driving home one night.

“It was a single vehicle car accident,” he says. “I actually kind of dozed off at the wheel on a gravel road and when you wake up, you react quickly. When I dozed off, one wheel got into the ditch on the right side and I overcorrected. It flipped the vehicle and I got thrown out.”

The accident happened at around midnight but it wasn’t until approximately 6 a.m. that help came in the form of the man who ran the local road grader.

“He said he never went on that road because he didn’t like it but he said he just got this really strange feeling,” says Westin. “He just turned down that road and decided to take it for no reason that he could think of.”

The man stopped to help after seeing Westin in the ditch and it was immediately evident that he needed medical attention. One of his legs had been crushed and the other was dislocated at the knee.

“My wife was a nurse in the [Foothills] hospital and was pregnant with our first daughter at the time,” says Westin. “They called her down to emergency and they said, ‘Your husband is coming in in the ambulance but we don’t know if he’s dead or alive.’ They didn’t know if I was going to make it.”

Luckily, Westin’s left leg had been crushed at the artery, which prevented him from bleeding to death. The circulation had been cut off for such a long time however that the surgeons had no choice but to amputate his leg.

Looking ahead

Following the accident, Westin stayed in the hospital for about two months. He says that despite the major changes that he was undergoing, he kept a positive attitude throughout.

“I think a lot of people were waiting for me to get depressed about losing a leg but I think I just realized how lucky I was. I didn’t really have anybody to blame except myself so it was more like, ‘Boy, I’m happy to be alive.’ As opposed to, ‘Why did this happen to me?’”

At the time, a lot of different things were happening in Westin’s life as well. He had enrolled into the journalism program at SAIT that year and was able to do some of the readings while still in the hospital. His first child was also born shortly after the accident so he had a lot to keep him distracted.

Within two months, Westin was up and moving around on crutches. He was given an artificial leg shortly after and, once the suture on his stump was healed, began to use it.

“There’s a challenge of basically learning to walk again on an artificial limb but I didn’t find it particularly difficult,” says Westin. “Even then, 30 years ago, the technology was getting pretty good.”

Around two years after the amputation, Westin got reintroduced back into sports. He had played various sports throughout high school such as baseball and basketball but after graduating, his emphasis on athletics decreased. He did however continue to go skiing and play the occasional game of golf.

“I think a lot of people were waiting for me to get depressed about losing a leg but I think I just realized how lucky I was. I didn’t really have anybody to blame except myself so it was more like, ‘Boy, I’m happy to be alive.’ As opposed to, ‘Why did this happen to me?’” – Shane Westin

To help him get active again, his wife bought him a pair of outrigger skis. Outriggers are similar to crutches with little skis on the bottom to allow amputees to control themselves while sliding down the hill.

Westin took some lessons at Canada Olympic Park to get comfortable with the new techniques and was soon able to go off on his own.

“You quickly realize, if you want to ski, you can ski,” he says. “You just use a little different equipment but you’re going to adjust.”

Though Westin did not play a lot of golf prior to the accident, he decided to take it up as well. Again, he had to adapt his previous techniques according to what his new leg would allow but the joy of the sport and competition kept him going.

That eventually resulted in him competing in both the Alberta Amputee Open and the Canadian Amputee and Disabled Golf National Open, winning four national golf trophies.

Getting back in the game

It was also through his return to golf that he became interested in the Alberta Amputee Sport and Recreation Association. After finding a brochure in a prosthetics office, he got in contact and joined.

Shane Westin did not play a lot of golf prior to the accident but began to play both recreationally and competitively following his amputation. He now has both provincial and national golf trophies under his belt.
Photo courtesy of Shane Westin
AASRA is an organization that promotes living an active lifestyle and encourages participation in any sport or physical activity amongst amputees. The association gives amputees the opportunity and the means to try sports and learn techniques that they otherwise may not. For those interested in getting into competitive sport, AASRA also provides funding to help cover costs such as training and travel.

Along with the athletic benefits, there are also support group meetings held once a month to help amputees cope with the loss of their limbs. Amputees can easily make connections with others who have undergone similar experiences and talk about issues that are affecting them.

After joining the organization, Westin sat as a board member for a number of years and accepted the role of president in 2014.

“AASRAs goal is really to help amputees realize their potential and to improve their lives through sport,” says Westin. “It’s healthy – it’s good exercise so it’s going to help their bodies. Even if it’s not competition, just getting out and playing sports really helps people emotionally. I think it’s really a way to help amputees fulfill their lives.”

Westin emphasizes that many new amputees go through difficult times following their surgery and struggle with depression. He says that the organization is really built around helping people to become confident and comfortable in their new body.

“When you first lose a limb, you’re trying to be what you were before. You don’t really want to be labeled an amputee,” says Westin. “It takes a few years for people to get comfortable with the fact that they’re an amputee and become proud of it. You’re not trying to be a non-amputee anymore, you’re trying to be the best you can be as an amputee.”

Westin says he also always tries to look on the bright side, seeing his amputation as an opportunity rather than a misfortune.

For example, he says that through his amputation he has met lots of incredible people that he would not have otherwise crossed paths with. He has also had the opportunity to work on movie sets as an extra; something that he would not have dreamed of doing prior to his amputation.

“I guess I can’t emphasize enough the opportunity that an amputation gives a person,” says Westin. “It opens up your mind to new things and you just realize, well, if I can do anything, what do I want to do?”

jrudisuela@cjournal.ca

The editor responsible for this article is Cheryl Russell, crussell@cjournal.ca 

Thumbnail courtesy of Shane Westin.