John Westhaver was just six weeks away from graduating high school when a tragic event in 1994 would completely change his life.
As the result of some poor choices, John and three of his friends got into a car accident, leaving him as the sole survivor and with life-threatening burns to 75% of his body. This is when John began his long, intensive journey of physical rehabilitation.
Although John underwent over 35 surgeries to treat his burns and scars, his physical appearance was changed forever. Despite this, John realized he needed to accept his new appearance, knowing that it didn’t change who he was on the inside. Forgiveness was the key to John’s recovery – and soon after he forgave everyone involved in the accident, he began to find peace.
John moved to Victoria, BC and joined a burn survivor support group, which brought out his talent for inspiring others through storytelling. John was committed to giving back and wanted to make the difference with young drivers. He has gone on to deliver almost 600 presentations to High Schools, Military personal, Firefighters, Hospital staff and businesses.
He does this in hopes of empowering young people to stand up for themselves and to make responsible life choices – especially in situations that involve driving. John spends most of his time traveling across Canada sharing his story and message of Road Safety with High Schools, he is an accomplished Motivational Speaker and loves working with organizations like ICBC (Insurance Corporation of British Columbia), the FireFighters Burn Fund Victoria, BC, and the Department of National Defence Canada.
This led to his current role in helping Burn Survivors and family members as well as co-chairing the Peer Support Group for Burn Survivors across Vancouver Island.
John is the co-chair of the Canadian Burn Survivor Community Committee and was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in recognition of his community service and courage.
Despite enduring years of pain, numerous surgeries and rehabilitation, John has showed resilience, courage, and compassion and has gone on to touch the lives of so many people. His positive energy is, without a doubt, contagious to all of those fortunate to know him. With his wife and daughter by his side, John has demonstrated that despite great odds and adversity, one person can truly make a difference.
Diagnosed with depression at the age of 13, Rachel began a challenging journey that included several misdiagnoses, wrongly prescribed medications and inadequate help and support. This lead her down a road of self-medicating with drugs, eventually losing Rachel her home, friends and family. She tried several different programs to quit her addiction but was unsuccessful due to her undiagnosed mental health issue.
The lowest point came when Rachel lost custody of her two children. This pushed her into the moment that would change her life. She stood on a bridge by a hospital and called 911, pretending to take her life with the hopes of just being heard and finally being seriously evaluated by a doctor. Thankfully she was heard, and was ultimately diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). With the ultimate goal being to get her children back, Rachel enrolled in numerous classes to better herself, including parenting and communication courses along with empowerment and martial arts programs.
Not only did Rachel begin to recover, she began to thrive, winning a silver medal at the Tiger Balm International martial arts tournament and a community leader award in Surrey. She also started, and continues to run, a program called Smiling Tigers Youth Group for at-risk youth and women, to teach them confidence, self-respect and self-defence through martial arts. Additionally, Rachel volunteers her time to train auxiliary RCMP Constables in self-defence and works with the RCMP Code Blue program in local high schools.
Having regained sole custody of her children years ago, Rachel is now a role model to both her kids and her community. Despite chronic pain issues stemming from a car accident, she continues to provide various free programs and support to those in need. Rachel is an advocate for decreasing the stigmas surrounding mental health and believes that no matter how dire one’s circumstances, one should never give up hope
Richard was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy at the age of three. He has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a progressive neuromuscular disorder without a known cure, where the muscles weaken until eventually they no longer function. By the age of ten, Richard was fully wheelchair bound.
Growing up, Richard’s physical disability was misunderstood by his teachers and peers, which caused him emotional stress and challenged his self-confidence. Over time, with the help of a pediatric psychologist, Canuck Place hospice counseling and school support person, Richard was able to come to terms with his diagnosis and the resulting impact it had on his life.
In high school his self-esteem increased and Richard started to participate in activities like adaptive hiking, sailing, hockey, soccer, boccia and art classes. Eventually, however, he lost the ability to participate in these activities as his muscles continued to weaken. His dream of attending art school after high school graduation was no longer possible.
Feeling unmotivated by his physical challenges, Richard spent much of his time at home playing video games. It was during this time that he discovered Guitar Hero. This game involved a guitar-shaped controller, and it was playing this that sparked his interest for music. Richard explored Vancouver Adapted Music Society (VAMS) and took part in regular jam sessions. He began collaboration with a family friend with a music background who offered him music lessons with an adapted guitar style to meet Richard’s physical requirements.
His breakout moment came in high school when Richard’s first performance was videotaped and uploaded to the Internet. Seen by the executive director of VAMS, Richard was invited to participate in an upcoming CD and concert. This project helped catapult Richard into the spotlight and he began to develop a reputation as an up-and-coming musician.
Since then Richard has performed at several events and for non-profit organizations throughout BC. He has formed his own band, the Richard Quan Blues Band and the Progressive Blues Experience, for which he plays lead guitar. Richard has hosted a benefit concert to raise awareness and benefit Muscular Dystrophy Canada (MDC) and has been involved with Tetra Society in their fundraising campaigns. Richard also made a return to perform alongside his band at his most heartfelt place, Canuck Place youth camp. Through his performances, he’s promoting both the awareness of the organizations that have helped him and the awareness of youth with disabilities.
Although most with his condition only live until their early 20s, 22-year-old Richard doesn’t let the uncertainty of his future hold him back. Despite his terminal illness and its many obstacles, Richard focuses on all the things he can do, instead of those he can’t. Despite his adversity, Richard remains courageous and positive, and has become an inspiration to many.