I was born in Picture Butte, near Lethbridge, Alberta. I grew up with my grandparents and three cousins, and spent every summer hunting and fishing and going to powwows on weekends. I’ve lived in many places in western Canada and the US and have been in Edmonton, on and off for over 20 years.
On July 21, 2007, I was sitting on the branch of a tree – 30 to 40 feet up - in my backyard. The branch broke, and my feet got caught up so I came down head first. I broke my neck and both arms and had internal bruising, and damaged my heart. I was a skydiver, and worked in dangerous professions and here I fell out of a tree that I’d been climbing for years, and now was paralyzed from my chest down with a C5 complete injury. When I woke up I could only use my eyes.
My arms slowly came back…they told me I wouldn’t get my triceps back, but I did. I’m a stubborn person and began working out. The first year, I stayed in my manual chair, and also got some trunk and stomach muscles back. I didn’t want to use a power chair but had to as my broken wrist was too painful. I went back for surgery on it and they took some bone from my hip.
I was four months at the Royal Alex, and seven months at Glenrose Hospital, plus one month at Sturgeon, in the middle.
I can’t imagine living in the country, on the reserve, with spinal cord injury. In Edmonton, I now live independently, but have a caregiver twice a day to help. I didn’t want anyone to help me, at first. I do my own cooking and grocery shopping.
My greatest challenge, day to day, is accessibility.
I would like to go out one day without worrying about if I can get into somewhere, if the bathroom is accessible. I worry about my power chair breaking down in cold weather. And I worry about infections and how clean bathrooms are. Many places that say they are accessible really aren’t. I was in one hotel that said they were accessible, but a rail in a bathtub is not enough…how are you supposed to get in? And the beds were too high.
|Michael Willier, pictured above
I’d never volunteered before but after my injury, but I went to the CPA and asked them if I could volunteer. At first, it was a way to keep busy but I enjoy doing it - it gives me purpose and something to look forward to, and we get to help each other.
I’ve done some speaking for United Way to tell people about life with spinal cord injury.
I also volunteer with Wicihitowin: Circle of Shared Responsibility and Stewardship, as the co-chair of the Health Action Circle, to find out what the needs are, where funding is needed, to help urban aboriginals. I also volunteer in their mentorship program. It’s not easy to come from the outside the city, with your family 400 miles away, and you don’t have anyone to talk to.
You can’t have the same life you’ve had before.
I was an iron worker before I got hurt and I loved my job…it was physically demanding I don’t have one, now.
Spinal cord injury devastates your family, your friends, not just you. It scares some friends away, because they don’t know how to talk to you. I’ve made new friends, and you come to understand who is really there for you.
SCI has brought something out in me that was always there…a mental strength. Nobody would ever understand what I’m going through. I wouldn’t want anyone to know what it’s like to be in a chair but I’m glad that there are people who understand and are willing to help.
Functionality of C5 Spinal Cord Injury
Mobility & Movement
- Full head and neck movement with good muscle strength. Good shoulder movement.
- Complete paralysis of body and legs. No finger or wrist movement. No elbow extension, good elbow flexion.
- Sympathetic nervous system will be compromised, possibility of Autonomic Dysreflexia.
- Electric wheelchair can be controlled with a hand control for uneven surfaces. A manual wheelchair may be used for short distances on flat surfaces.
- The person will require total assistance when transferring from a bed to a wheelchair and from a wheelchair into a car. A hoist will have to be used, possibly by one to two assistants for safety.
- Ability to feed self using feeding strap and fork or spoon during mealtimes. Food will need cutting.
- Ability to drive a car adapted with hand controls. Assistance may be required to load wheelchair into car independently.
- Able to breathe without a ventilator using diaphragm. Low stamina.
- Assistance required to clear secretions and assistance in coughing will be required.
- Complete personal assistance is required. The person will need assistance with washing, dressing, and assistance with bowel and bladder management.
- Ability to shave and brush hair may be possible with palm straps.
- Complete domestic care is required, such as household cleaning, washing of clothes and kitchen duties, preparation of meals and general household duties.
- A computer may be operated using a typing stick or voice recognition. Telephone can be used using voice recognition and headset.
This is a general functionality guide.
Abilities will vary depending on the person’s weight, existing medical conditions and age.