Leading By Example

Patients who are empowering themselves

International Day for Persons with Disabilities

December 3 is International Day for Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), and the United Nations has celebrated it every year since 1992. The day is meant to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all aspects of society and development, as well as to increase awareness of persons with disabilities in political, social, economic, and cultural life.

This year, the UN’s theme for IDPD is “promoting the participation of persons with disabilities and their leadership,” with a spotlight discussion and event about “sport for all for peace and development.”  In honour of this international day, West Park is putting the spotlight on two incredible patients – past and present – who are doing amazing things with their lives, in and out of the hospital.

Leadership on campus

Kelly Kadechuk has been a resident of West Park’s Enhanced Living Unit (ELU) since 2014, and she’s brought her go-getter attitude and aptitude for taking on leadership roles to the campus.

After an unknown medical event left Kadechuck ventilated and quadriplegic, she has had to learn how to adapt herself to a new way of living, but her strong personality and diverse skillset has helped her along the way.

Kadechuk, who maintains her professional credentials, has been a registered veterinary technician since 2012, a motivated and responsible equestrian, and was active in extra-curricular clubs at Northern College. Since moving to West Park, she has been elected as co-chair to the Patient and Family Advisory Committee (PFAC), has become an advisor to Campus Development and other departments in the hospital, and most recently, has started an “Idea Exchange” group for West Park patients.

“I’ve always been someone who takes on leadership or gets involved,” Kadechuk says of her achievements. “Just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you can’t do something and feel important.”

Kadechuk likens her new roles to going back to work, something that’s always been a huge part of who she is. “I think of it as getting up and going to work, going to a meeting,” she says of her role as PFAC co-chair. “Joining committees can help you feel like you got a bit of yourself back, especially when work was such a huge part of your life.”

While she may not be able to use her skills in the same way, Kadechuk has made great use of her knowledge, education, and ambition to advise on issues around campus, help out where she can, and get as involved as possible in both the current hospital and plans for the new one.

“I like to turn complaining into action,” she says, referring to her committees. “Either take your issues to the committee, or make your own.”

With her strong will and opinionated personality, patients and staff of West Park can expect to see more of Kadechuk around campus, taking life as it comes.

Spotlight on sports

Like the UN, West Park believes in the power of sport and activity and its impact on physical recovery and rehabilitation. Jason Naval, a former patient, can attest to how integral it was during his own recovery.

After a motorcycle accident in 2009, Naval had his lower leg amputated and found himself in recovery at West Park. Looking for motivation to get through, he turned to adaptive sports – sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball – where he found new purpose in his life.

“My motivation to get better was playing basketball,” Naval says. “Just being able to play para sports is what drove me.”

That drive got Naval a seat on the Canada Men’s Sitting Volleyball team when they competed in the 2011 Guadalajara and 2015 Toronto Pan-Am games, winning bronze both times.

After collecting some hardware, Naval eventually moved on from the sitting volleyball team to play wheelchair basketball at a national level. In 2018, he played professionally in France for the Canadian premier team, and attended the national academy with Canada as well.

“I was playing with the best wheelchair basketball players in Canada,” he says. Having played with the best Canada has to offer, Naval is now working towards playing on the Philippines’ national wheelchair basketball team. 

Both Naval’s life-changing accident and his career in professional sports after it have profoundly shaped the take he has on life.

“I realized I almost died,” Naval says of his accident. “I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life doing anything I didn’t want to.”

Since coming to this realization, Naval has put his priorities in order, training for a spot on a national wheelchair basketball team, free diving for fun, and swimming with sharks around the world. The impact sports has had on not only his recovery, but his life after, is not lost on Naval.

“Sports opened my eyes to travel and meeting people of the world,” he says. “My coaches and teammates taught me discipline and camaraderie. My endeavours with sports have given me a chance to work on my body and develop my mind.”

Now, Naval spends his time travelling and working towards his professional sports goals, understanding that para sports “are not a tier below regular sports; it’s the same thing. It’s its own sport.”

Naval participated in West Park’s first Adaptive Sport Demo Day in October, bringing his story and experience to show others how crucial sport and activity have been in his recovery and in his new lease on life. “Sports showed me what ego was, how it ruled some people but tempered others,” he says of his journey. “Today, I’m more free than I was yesterday.”

People find personal empowerment in a variety of ways, but leadership and sports prove to be integral roles in development and personal growth for persons with disabilities, either through recovery or a new stage of life. At West Park, we encourage and foster these roles whenever possible. Kadechuk and Naval are only two great examples of the incredible patients who are getting their lives back every day on and off campus.