On Christmas Day in 2009, Lester Wong was in a car accident that changed his life forever. He suffered a devastating burn injury to a third of his body leaving him severely disfigured and affecting his upper body and limbs. He had more than 30 reconstructive surgeries to his eyelids, ears, mouth and hands and had to wear pressure garments day and night for more than 2 years: a burn injury is one of the most painful and horrific injuries the body can endure.
In spite of his injuries, Lester showed incredible determination to continue to pursue his life goals. He returned to school at BCIT, and just over a year after his accident, resumed duty as a reservist at the Canadian Armed Forces. He recently passed the rigorous tests and gained employment for a small aircraft maintenance facility. Lester’s injuries and the loss of his fingers haven’t stopped him from achieving his dream of becoming an airline pilot, either.
Lester has not just confined himself to his personal journey. He has become an active member of the Future is Mine (the adult burn survivor program), and he has volunteered as a counsellor at Burn Camp. Although he is shy by nature, Lester shows extraordinary courage in sharing his story at camp, events and with the media, to help others come to terms with their own injuries.
Born with a rare condition called posteromedial tibial bowing, as a child Miranda Tymoschuk had ten surgeries requiring painful months of self-administered adjustments, and rehab to gradually lengthen and straighten her leg. Over the course of her life, she has been diagnosed with several complex chronic health conditions. After a traumatic experience in hospital left her with PTSD, she experienced isolation, anxiety and depression, leading to addiction to opiates to numb the physical and emotional pain.
But 25-year-old Miranda has never let these challenges hold her back. Inspired by her medical team, and despite major setbacks and many missed periods of school, she aspires to become a doctor. She is constantly striving to improve herself – and help others in the process – through programs including the Patient Voices Network, Coast Mental Health Peer Support Training and the Ridge Meadows Local Action Team.
Raised by a single mom, she saw the strain travel, parking and food costs caused, while she was hospitalized, and created a new fund to support other families, which she nicknamed “Pay It Forward” Fund. She has also volunteered for Free the Children, and interned for Health Access Connect in Kenya, Ghana, India and Uganda raising more than $75,000 over several years. Miranda has chosen to turn her own challenges into an opportunity to help others and generously shares her story so they might feel less alone.
In 1999, Greg was a successful lawyer in Vancouver when a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease began a 20-year battle with health afflictions that continues today. In 2015 Greg was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, underwent chemotherapy, emergency surgery and a stem cell transplant. The cancer appeared to go into remission.
However, as a result of his medical conditions, and the impact the treatments have had on his body, Greg also required four joint replacement surgeries (two hips and two shoulders). Last year, it was discovered that cancer had returned in the form of Myeloid Sarcomas. Because of the pandemic, Greg faced treatment largely alone, away from his wife and twins.
Greg’s ill-health has forced him to leave the practice of law several times, but he has now returned four times, determined to continue doing the work he is passionate about. Greg met his wife Karilyn – a former recipient of the Courage To Come Back Awards – through the CHILD Foundation, where he continues to generously volunteer his time as a Board Member. He contributes to the Continuing Legal Education, lectures for Chartered Professionals in Human Resources and gives talks about living with Crohn’s disease.
Throughout his many health challenges, Greg has remained an outstanding example of resilience and hope in the face of adversity – his unshakeable optimism in the face of terrible odds make him an inspiration to those around him.
Alex Sangha is gay, lives with a mental illness and is from a South Asian community, where most people do not accept homosexuality, and mental illness is not widely understood. As a closeted young man, he felt suicidal, and at 18, he experienced ‘the light’, or a hallucination. Following years of ups and downs, in and out of hospital for treatment, in his 30s he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He also lives with Type 2 Diabetes on insulin and a herniated disk.
Following his diagnosis, he has worked with his doctors to create a holistic approach to treatment including medication, counselling, nutritious diet, exercise, socialization, support groups, family support, good sleep, a flexible work schedule and low stress.
Despite some serious ongoing health issues, Alex studied to become a social worker, then a clinical counsellor. Alex has also become an inspirational creator of safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community. He has founded two non-profits: Sher Vancouver, which supports the South Asian LGBTQ+ community; and he is one of the founders of the Dignity Seniors Society which aims to support vulnerable LGBTQ+ seniors in Vancouver. He works hard to break down stigmas and combat bullying: he has authored 3 books, countless articles and directed an award-winning documentary. In 2016, he became the first Sikh to become the Grand Marshall of the Vancouver Pride Parade.
For Guy Felicella, a childhood of verbal and emotional abuse led to anxiety, depression, self-hatred, and eventually; at the age of only 12; self-medication with drugs. This began a 30-year cycle of addiction, homelessness, crime, jail and gang involvement. Living within a two-block radius in the Downtown Eastside, he suffered from five bone infections and 6 overdoses, relying on harm reduction measures to stay alive. One of the overdoses left him dead for almost 7 minutes and became the turning point.
He went to an opioid recovery centre, completed a drug court program, participated in trauma counselling and has now been sober for over 8 years. Guy now uses his lived experience to support and advocate for people living with addiction through his work as policy advisor for Vancouver Coastal Health, the Ministry of Mental Health & Addiction and the BC Centre on Substance Use.
He bravely shares his story to put a face to addiction and has authored over 10 published articles, given 2 TED talks, and regularly gives talks at schools, community presentations, conferences and universities. Guy went from being “just another face in the Downtown Eastside” to a man with a life that he is proud of, a family that he loves deeply and a blossoming career that he pursued despite all odds.