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Surviving Life-Threatening Burns: My Personal Road to Recovery

Surviving Life-Threatening Burns: My Personal Road to Recovery

John receives the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Award in recognition of his community work

Editor’s Note: John Westhaver is a burn survivor, coach and public speaker.  

Like most 18-year olds some of my favourite times were spent with my closest friends. We did all the regular things that teens do. The one thing however, that not all teens experience, thankfully, is what happened to me and my friends on a Friday night in April 1994.

That one fateful Friday night changed my life and impacted the lives of four families forever. That night I lost my best friends Jason, Jimmy and Aaron. That night ended with me having more than 75% of my body covered in burns. I do need to say that our driver was not intoxicated or under the influence of any kind that night. He was sober. However, speed was not our friend that night.

A tight corner came up to quickly; we lost control and hit a utility pole. The car burst into flames. I was the only survivor. I was rushed to the hospital in St. Stephen with more than 75% of my body burned; they prepared to transfer me to the burn unit in Saint John. In Saint John, it became apparent that more than 50% of my body had 3rd and 4th degree burns. I was not expected to live. To save me, a coma was induced. During this month-long period, I underwent numerous surgeries to repair the damage.

When I woke up my teenage life was drastically altered. Being the only survivor was challenging in many ways. First and foremost was dealing with the fact my friends were gone. In addition, I had to comprehend the significance of my injuries, and the healing and work that I had before me.

After being discharged from the hospital in Saint John I began the process of physiotherapy. At first I was driving back and forth to Saint John every day and then every other day. It was grueling. After a short time it was recommended that I go to the Stan Cassidy Centre for Rehabilitation for treatment.

In the fall of 1994, I did just that. I can’t say enough about the care and support that I received while in the care of the staff at the Centre. It was an amazing team that gave me the space, the support and the resources I needed to live life with my damaged body. Life was not easy but would have been much worse without their support. Each day I had physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. After only a couple of months I was able to go home and begin the next chapter in my life, which included finishing my education.

In 2000, I moved to Victoria, BC. I was fortunate to meet and become involved with a great support group for Burn Survivors. Helping others has become a life mission and now I also sit on the board of the Firefighters Burn Fund Victoria, and am the Co-Chair of the Canadian Burn Survivor Community Committee. My success is a result of the support I received from the Stan Cassidy Centre for Rehabilitation. I can’t say thank you enough for that.

I also have become a coach and speaker – sharing my story. This November I will be traveling through the Maritimes on the Zero Fatalities Tour 2016. During this tour I plan to deliver 40 keynote presentations to schools. My mission on this tour is to share with students the real human impact of a fatal car crash. My promise is to drop the number of fatal car crashes in half in 12 months as a result of my tour.

This is my story.

(To learn more information on the Stan Cassidy Centre for Rehabilitation click here and the Stan Cassidy Foundation, click here.)

John Westhaver   
Burn Survivor and
Former Patient,
Stan Cassidy Rehabilitation Centre


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