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.
New records were achieved at the 18th annual Courage To Come Back Awards on May 5th with over 1,500 attendees at the Vancouver Convention Centre and over $1.43 million raised to support Coast Mental Health.
Each year, Coast Mental Health hosts this coveted awards gala, an inspirational evening to recognize six truly remarkable British Columbians – their courage to overcome serious adversity, change their lives for the better, and move forward to help others do the same.
Funds raised will go directly to Coast Mental Health to support those dealing with mental illness. The event was chaired by Lorne Segal, O.B.C. and attended by The Honourable Judith Guichon, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia. A key highlight during the evening was Minister of Health Terry Lake donating $100,000 from the Province on behalf of Premier Christy Clark and Minister of Finance, Mike de Jong.
During the evening, the following recipients were presented with spectacular glass sculptures designed by Susan Point:
Tom Teranishi, Vancouver, BC – Medical Category
Meredith Graham, New Westminster, BC – Social Adversity Category
Jemal Damtawe, Coquitlam, BC – Addiction Category
Christy Campbell, North Vancouver, BC – Physical Rehabilitation Category
Dr. Barbara Harris, Vancouver BC – Mental Health Category
Coltyn Liu, Vancouver, BC – Youth Category
In the words of Courage Recipient Meredith Graham – “People can and do change in remarkable ways. There is extraordinary potential in genuine kindness. Every act of kindness, no matter how small, has the power to heal.”
The Courage To Come Back Awards
The Courage To Come Back Awards are presented annually by Coast Mental Health Foundation to celebrate British Columbians who have overcome illness or adversity and have ‘come back to give back’ to their communities, and to inspire others to do the same.
Coast Mental Health
For over 40 years, Coast Mental Health has helped bridge the gap between diagnosis and recovery for individuals with significant mental health challenges. Through the generous contributions of donors and partners, Coast Mental Health offers innovative programs that address the three essential pillars of sustained recovery: Housing, Employment and Support Services. Through engaging clients in their own recovery and focusing on long-term success, Coast Mental Health envisions a future where possibilities become reality. To find out more about what Coast Mental Health does, go to www.coastmentalhealth.com
COLTYN LIU NAMED COURAGE TO COME BACK AWARD RECIPIENT
Look at him now and you’d never believe his story: hit by a steel vendor’s cart in a shopping mall food court as a toddler, slammed aside like a rag doll, suffering traumatic brain injury which left him having to learn to talk, to walk, to comprehend; left him hyper-sensitive to sound and the world around him, susceptible to screaming fits, seizures and ongoing secondary injuries and challenges.
Look at him now and you see an ‘A’ student, six-feet-four, a volleyball star, a leader and winner with the awards to prove it. You see a mentor to other kids, a volunteer coach and ref. You couldn’t imagine him slithering on his stomach, lashing out in pain, a crying violent boy, bullied mercilessly, not able to handle being touched or understand what was happening or being said around him, moved to home schooling. You’d never believe the daily heartache and struggles he still goes through to be in school, the effort it takes to do everyday activities and the things he loves or the anguish he lives with as he fights through a day and the continuing regressions and pain.
Look at him now and it’s easy to forget the years of poverty, the food bank line-ups, the scrounging to survive, the doctors, lawyers and therapists as his mother and sister fought the system to get him the help he needed. You’d never know the battles they still face and the hardships they continue to endure.
Look at him now and you will see his “me-do” attitude, his will to live and overcome perceptions and beat the odds, you see his love of sport, first as therapy, then as a passion. As one of his teachers puts it, Coltyn “is one of those elite-level athletes who has the innate ability to raise the level of all the people around him”.
Look at him now and you’ll find him helping others, founding, with his sister and mother, K.A.R.E (Kids Actions Really Energize) Power, an organization which identifies community challenges and comes up with solutions from a youth perspective.
Coltyn will receive his award at The Courage To Come Back Awards gala dinner on Thursday, May 5, 2016 at the Vancouver Convention Centre West. Tickets and information at couragetocomeback.ca
DR. BARBARA HARRIS NAMED COURAGE TO COME BACK AWARD RECIPIENT
Her father, a residential school survivor, left her home months before Barbara was born. Also, at just under two years old, her sister died in a tragic accident, and she was separated from her family for a few months, until her mother was able to care for her and her brother again. During her early school years she was bullied, and she was also threatened and sexually abused for 4 years. At age 13, she ran away from home, to Vancouver, where she just tried to survive. Two years later she was lured to the United States where the attempt was made to force her into the sex trade, although she managed to get a job as a stripper. She was beaten daily except when she got paid, but after about five weeks, another stripper helped her to escape, and she returned to Vancouver.
Back in Vancouver and completely traumatized, she became deeply depressed and suicidal, and got into heroin which provided relief from the PTSD. After a year, she found herself on the floor of a condemned house, praying to die. But she lived, quitting cold turkey, though continuing to dull her trauma with alcohol, working in the entertainment business until age 28.
Back pain ended her career as a dancer; and things went down hill again; now she got into cocaine. “Again, I wanted to die,” she remembers; “I just didn’t have the nerve to kill myself.” Instead, she attended her first 12-step meeting in January, 1986. Within a week, no more liquor or drugs: she’s been clean and sober ever since.
She battled serious mental illness for the first 10 years of her sobriety but she refused to take medications. After nine years sober and with only grade 8 education, she finally mustered up the courage to return to school, first to Langara College, where she made the Dean’s List, then to UBC for Bachelor and Master’s degrees in Social Work, graduating in 2000. She also became a member of the Golden Key National Honour Society for academic excellence at UBC.
After graduating with her MSW, She began doing trauma therapy at an agency in the DTES and also began working in academia, as a lecturer and program developer/coordinator. In 2009, she obtained her PhD. from SFU, and at that time, opened a full-time private practice. Her Counseling practice focuses on trauma recovery and residential school survivors and their families.
She has published scores of academic articles, presented her research at numerous academic conferences, has held over 20 volunteer positions in a self help program, has served on the board of Vancouver Recovery Club, and was recently elected to the board of EMDR Canada.
On a personal note, she met her biological father for the first time in 1996 and cared for him until he died in 2000.
Barbara Harris will receive her award at The Courage To Come Back Awards gala dinner on Thursday, May 5, 2016 at the Vancouver Convention Centre West. Tickets and information at couragetocomeback.ca
CHRISTY CAMPBELL NAMED COURAGE TO COME BACK AWARD RECIPIENT
Christy Campbell, 41, of North Vancouver is the 2016 Courage To Come Back Award recipient in the Physical Rehabilitation category.
Christy had it all: active healthy life; loving partner, rewarding career, happy home, and great friends. Then, in December, 2005, at the age of 31, she was devastated by a stroke. Unable to walk or talk or read, Christy’s vocabulary was wiped out. She could not ask for help, type an email or say her own name. She lost every word but one and learned a new word “aphasia.” Aphasia is a communication disorder best described as being dropped into an alien land where you can’t speak the language and don’t understand a single letter of the alphabet.
Give up? Not a chance. The one word she had was “yes.” Christy was alive and with the support of her husband and many friends and family took her life in an unexpected direction. At the time of her stroke, beyond short-term therapy BC’s medical system had very limited resources for people Christy age with her conditions, this despite the fact that new aphasia cases arise in Canada at about the same rate as cases of breast cancer.
Courageously, Christy decided that she would improve the resources available to brain injury survivors in BC. Six months after her stroke she could say 12 words. Intellect intact, she spent countless hours learning to dress and write with her left hand, learning to walk, learning to drive and learning to read again. She’d lost her career but not her will to contribute; she wants people with aphasia to have the treatment, resources and support they need.
In the years since her stroke, her vocabulary and confidence grew and she continues to overcome the isolation aphasia imposes. Christy inspired and co-founded the annual Sea-to-Sky Aphasia Camp, now entering its seventh year. She established UBC’s Campbell-Purves Aphasia Education Fund and offers her time and energy as a volunteer to Providence Health Care, Columbia Speech and Language Services, the Stroke Recovery Association of BC and other organizations far and wide. She’s now a mother of an active four-year old who loves listening to her read bedtime stories.
Christy will receive her award at The Courage To Come Back Awards gala dinner on Thursday, May 5, 2016 at the Vancouver Convention Centre West. Tickets and information at couragetocomeback.ca
Sonia Deol interviews Christy Campbell – watch live on Global News Hour at 6pm May 2nd
JEMAL DAMTAWE NAMED COURAGE TO COME BACK AWARD RECIPIENT
At age 15 in war-torn Ethiopia, he became a child soldier – at the point of a gun. His first escape, stowed away on a cargo ship, left him swimming for his life with other boys, two of whom drowned. In 1986, still a teenager, he tried again, reaching Canada in 1989, getting asylum, starting a restaurant in Montreal, getting married, having a daughter.
But he couldn’t shake his trauma, undiagnosed PTSD. He self-medicated with drugs and alcohol, left his family, moved to Portland, OR, joined a gang and became a drug dealer.
The threat of death led him back to Canada – Vancouver – in 2005. The overdose death of a friend led him to Union Gospel Mission. Sheer will, recovery programs and the caring support of others led him to quit drugs and get sober. He confronted his childhood trauma and vowed to help others kick the habit as he had. He became Reverend Jemal in June 2011.
On Christmas Day, 2015 Jemal Damtawe celebrated 10 years of sobriety. He began working as a volunteer swamper at the UGM Thrift Store and is now a full-time Outreach Worker and Preacher at UGM. He rescues those struggling with addiction and homelessness in the Downtown East Side. He is mentor to dozens of men who have walked on the road away from addiction and back toward self-respect.
Jemal has married again, has a three year-old son, and has joyfully reconnected with his 23-year old daughter.
Jemal will receive his award at The Courage To Come Back Awards gala dinner on Thursday, May 5, 2016 at the Vancouver Convention Centre West. Tickets and information at couragetocomeback.ca
MEREDITH GRAHAM NAMED COURAGE TO COME BACK AWARD RECIPIENT
by Gerald Haslam
Meredith Graham, 27, of New Westminster, is the 2016 Courage To Come Back Award recipient in the Social Adversity category.
Meredith’s childhood was influenced by her parents’ experiences of poverty, food scarcity, violence, periods of mental illness, and substance use. Meredith – from age eight on – was forced into the role of parent.
She was diagnosed with depression and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder at 13, bi-polar disorder at 18 and borderline personality disorder at 26. She ran away from home as a teen, couch-surfing with friends. In high school she used coping strategies that further put her health at risk, such as disordered eating.
At the point where she could have given up, or worse, Meredith was embraced by people who cared: teachers and vice-principals at Princess Margaret Secondary School in Surrey. At 15, she now had a safe place to live with no more three-hour daily bus rides. She had medications, individual and group counselling, with support from psychologists, social workers, and, later, group home workers, women from her church, and landlords.
Overcoming setbacks, she graduated from high school (and sang the national anthem at the convocation), completed the Performing Arts program at Capilano University, graduated with a diploma in Child and Youth Care Counselling from Douglas College and is now a student in the Bachelor of Child and Youth Care program.
She is a youth and family development worker at St. Leonard’s Youth and Family Services in Burnaby, and has also made significant volunteer contributions in the community. She initiated Peer Health Educators at Douglas College to teach students about improving mental health and was active in the Douglas College Miles for Mental Health Run/Walk, has contributed training materials for the education of social workers and serves on two volunteer boards for the Vancouver Foundation. She’s open about her history, giving interviews, speeches, and sharing her poetry to focus attention on the issues illustrated by her own life and the need for resources to help others.
Meredith Graham will receive her award at The Courage To Come Back Awards gala dinner on Thursday, May 5, 2016 at the Vancouver Convention Centre West. Tickets and information at couragetocomeback.ca
TOM TERANISHI NAMED COURAGE TO COME BACK AWARD RECIPIENT
by Gerald Haslam
Tom was born in 1942 at a wartime internment camp for Japanese-Canadians. He had significant vision issues from birth, which later developed into retinopathy and macular degeneration, undergoing bilateral cataract and corneal transplant surgeries. Today he has about five per cent functional vision with light sensitivity.
There were early signs in his mid-teens and he began suffering from poor renal function by 1978 and was put under the care of a kidney specialist. In 1983 he was put on hemo-dialysis and in 1984 he was fortunate enough to receive a kidney transplant, which served him well for 30 years. Three years ago his kidney functions were decreasing so he was back on hemo-dialysis by 2014 followed by a second transplant in 2015.
None of this stopped Tom from getting an education and pursuing a career. He received B.A. and Masters of Social Work degrees from UBC and began full-time work at Shaughnessy Hospital in 1968, helping war veterans and others needing rehabilitation and support. When the hospital closed in 1993, Tom transferred to VGH, where he worked in the physical rehab unit and continued teaching and supervising social work students and future doctors.
His deteriorating eyesight and other health issues forced Tom to retire from hospital work in 2004 and from his activity as a private practitioner in 2013, but none of that has prevented him from aiding a rich diversity of community organizations as a volunteer. It’s a long list starting with Kits Neighbourhood House in his university days, then later goes on to include the Kinsmen Society, Lions Society, Nikkei Seniors Health Care and Housing Society, Metro Vancouver Cross-Cultural Seniors Network, and the Association for the Equality of Blind Canadians.
He has travelled widely, been a curler, bowler, hiker and cross-country skier. As his friends say of Tom, admiringly, there’s not much he won’t try.
Tom will receive his award at The Courage To Come Back Awards gala dinner on Thursday, May 5, 2016 at the Vancouver Convention Centre West. Tickets and information at couragetocomeback.ca
Randene Neill interviews Tom Teranishi – watch live on Global News Hour at 6pm May 4th.
by Gerald Haslam – founding member of Coast Mental Health Foundation, author, past member of The Courage To Come Back Executive Committee
My involvement with Courage began on a rainy fall day in 1998. Hugh Mitchell, a stockbroker and friend I’d done business with since the early 80s, reached me by phone. “I’ve found something really fascinating, something you couldn’t turn down in a month of Sundays,” said he.
That piqued my interest: whatever could he be talking about and how could he be so sure I’d want to be involved? “It’s called the Courage to Come Back Awards. It started in Pittsburgh; a local organization called the Coast Foundation wants to start it here.”
So? I’d never heard of the Coast Foundation (now Coast Mental Health), had no idea what these awards might be about. I must have sounded skeptical, to put it gently.
“Just come to one meeting,” Hugh insisted; “see what happens.”
What to do? When someone you trust asks you to do a little something – go to one meeting, nothing more – you repay that trust by saying yes. So I went to the meeting, met Darrell Burnham (then Executive Director of Coast, now CEO) and Shirley Broadfoot (first Courage Chair), and other volunteers, heard what they wanted to do, bounced ideas back and forth, made some suggestions and came away totally convinced that this Courage thing was a wonderful idea that could and would change lives for the better. That meeting began a relationship which has lasted, one way or another, ever since.
For the best part of 10 years I was chair of what we called “the vast and powerful media committee” (which had all of two members). I wrote virtually every press release announcing the names of recipients. I met virtually all of them. I went to scores of meetings in the Coast basement on East 11th Avenue. I wrote a book about Courage recipients and nominees called Heroes Next Door. I got to know a number of those folks very well. I came to regard them all as a kind of extended family. For months every year I was consumed by the Courage event. I watched it grow from its rather ragged beginnings into the important project and life-changing experience it has become.
But did it really affect me, change me, as a person? Yes, no question. Let me tell you how, abbreviated version, give you some of the lessons this experience imparted to this one individual. I want to do that by using the best example I can think of, the Courage recipient I got to know best, a hero named Lorne Joseph James Kimber. Born in Saskatoon June 3, 1948; died in Vancouver April 22, 2008.
“I am not a poor disabled person,” he liked to say; “I am, first, a person, and second, I have a disability.” For all the years I knew him, Lorne, who suffered from multiple sclerosis, never walked, never washed himself or dressed himself or brushed his own teeth. His ability to speak declined steadily. But he lived a fuller life than most of us: he was a blazing beacon for people with disabilities, a champion not only for himself but for others as well. He was a mentor and a role model. He was brave and tough and stubborn and cheerful and he had an impish sense of humour.
I first met Lorne in his room at George Pearson Centre, a long-term care facility in Vancouver. He was the recipient in the General Medicine category in the first year of the Courage to Come Back Awards, recognized for his years of successful advocacy for people with disabilities. He was a pioneer in the push for wheelchair accessibility and the initiator behind what he fondly described as Canada’s first wheelchair-accessible taxi fleet (Kimber Cabs, going strong since 1989).
That first time, I was drafting a press release announcing his award. “I may have MS,” it quoted Lorne as saying, “but MS doesn’t have me.” I read the line to him and he said, “Can I add something?” Yes, of course. “MS doesn’t have me,” he went on; “Jesus does.”
Lorne believed God gave him severe challenges because he was destined to inspire others. He believed in Heaven and knew to a moral certainty that when the Lord called him home, as he put it, he’d be reunited with Angela, the beloved wife he lost to cancer in 1987. We who saw him often figured his next bout of pneumonia – by 2008 he’d had survived a dozen or more of them – might well be the last. But that wasn’t how he went, passing on instead peacefully, in his sleep, to be sprightly and joyful again.
He taught me so much more than he realized at the time, about life’s challenges and how to confront them, about optimism and courage, about never giving up. His faith was real, his smile infectious. He taught me that the true measurement of your value is how much you help others.
Lorne Kimber was my friend; if he could face life as he did, the rest of us, with less daunting prospects, can surely do almost as well.
Wendy St. Marie, 2015 Courage To Come Back Award Recipient – Speech, Courage Launch, January 6, 2016
I want to tell you how being nominated and going through the process has affected me and to ENCOURAGE others to nominate.
I had the very great honour of being the recipient of last year’s Courage To Come Back Award in the medical category.
When my friend told me that she would like to nominate me for this award I said sure. I didn’t think that there was a chance in the world that I would be a recipient of any award.
Having said that, I appreciated the intent. She asked permission to contact other friends, one of which was my oldest friend. We have known each other since we were four year old. In other words my history was validated.
I was so positive I wasn’t going to even be considered that I purposely did not look at the website or any information on the Awards or Coast Mental Health.
This is why I am here today. I want to tell you how being nominated and going through the process has affected me and to ENCOURAGE others to nominate.
All nominees must sign the nomination form In order for it to be submitted. Upon reading it I was immediately overwhelmed by what my friends wrote about me. Regardless if I had never heard again from Coast Mental Health, to have in writing how my friends feel about me was mind blowing and that was MORE than enough. I will hold all of those words close to me forever.
I didn’t think about the awards again until I received a call from Lorne Segal. After his introduction , Lorne spoke of the history and the value of these awards and the selection criteria. I continued to listen thinking this man does a great “Decline”. I had been in the position of delivering bad news to staff before. Then he finally Congratulated me for being the recipient in the Medical category!
From there it was a whirlwind of Press and Media, and meeting the other nominees.
This experience ranks as my most exciting and memorable. I look at my beautiful award on my mantle every day. I have gained more confidence in my abilities and I recently completed my training to be an Ambassador for the M S Society of B.C.
I am passionate about these Courage Awards.
Please take the time to nominate someone. It is a short time out of your life to take the time to nominate. There are so many worthy people in Vancouver. You can change someone’s life!