Saturday, December 14, 2002
A G A I N S T  A L L  O D D S

Patience and faith gave a fresh lease to his life
Dalip Singh Gill

Jaspal leads an independent life even though he is confined to a wheelchair
Jaspal leads an independent life even though he is confined to a wheelchair

HANDICAP is just a condition of the mind, and once one overcomes the stigma attached to this word, there is nothing to stop one from achieving success in life, even if one is disabled. Jaspal, who had lost the use of both his arms and legs at such a stage when he was enjoying a happy life with his wife and two children has not succumbed to his fate but fought it to make his place in society and the world. He would also like to help others who suffer some sort of disability to live a respectful life. I met Jaspal at the Guru Nanak Gurudwara on the Scott Road in Surrey during my visit to Canada. He told me about his life, which has been full of adventure and courage. By determination, patience and faith in God, he overcame all hardships and gave a fresh lease to his life.

Jaspal was born on July 1, 1958. Just a few months before his birth his father had died in Bilga village in Punjab. Jaspalís mother remarried a few years later. When Jaspal was 13, his mother and his three brothers moved to Canada, to be with their new father. The family worked hard to make a living and a new beginning in Canada.


Jaspal graduated from Richmond high in 1978. In 1980, he met and married his life partner, Kulbinder. Her parents, two sisters and brother also live in Surrey.

The couple was blessed with a son, Michael, and a daughter whom they named Sonya. Jaspal and Kulbinder worked hard to raise their family. They worked opposite shifts so that they would not have to leave their children with anyone.

Jaspal worked in a mill for a while, and then he decided to get a truck driving licence. He began driving a semi-trailer truck in town, simply to remain close to his family. Jaspal was a hard worker and during vacation he would work around the house. He loved to do gardening and enjoyed playing hockey and tennis, and even cooking in the kitchen.

In December of 1994, Jaspal took his family to India; this had been his dream for a while and they stayed there for five weeks. Six months after this trip, on his 37th birthday, Jaspal decided to celebrate his birthday by going out for dinner with his family. On the way home, they stopped at his sister-in-lawís place for a pool party Jaspal was a good swimmer and very athletic, so no one paid any attention when he dove into the pool for the tenth time. Suddenly his wife noticed that he was looking strange and calling for her. She screamed for help. Her brother-in-law came running to get him out of the pool, while her sister ran in the house to call 911. When they pulled him out, he kept saying he could not feel any sensation in his arms and legs. In the meantime, the ambulance came and he was rushed to Surrey Memorial Hospital. After initial checking, the doctors sent him to Vancouver General Hospital (VGH).

At VGH the doctors confirmed that Jaspal had broken his neck and they would have to do surgery. The next day when he awoke, he asked the nurses to call his work and tell them that he would not be able to come to work for a couple of weeks, not knowing that he would never be going back to work. The doctors met his family to say that he would never walk again, that he was be paralysed from neck down.

A few days later his lungs collapsed and he was no longer breathing on his own. He got pneumonia and was on a breathing machine for the next month or so. He was not speaking or breathing and that was the worst time for the family as they were just watching him every day not knowing what was going to happen next.

Finally one day the doctor said that he would try and take the breathing machine off to see if he could breathe on his own. Every day the physiotherapists would work with him to try and get him to breathe on his own. Gradually, he became a little stronger and the doctors got him to sit up and get into a wheelchair. This was very difficult at first; as he kept saying that he couldnít do this, as it was too painful, physically and emotionally. Slowly and steadily, Jaspal was able to sit in the wheelchair for longer periods.

After staying at VGH for two months, he was moved to GF Strong Rehabilitation Center in Vancouver, B.C., which is the best rehabilitation centre in all of North America.

At GF Strong, with the help of physiotherapy Jaspal could make some movement with his arms, but he was not able to feel anything below his chest and could not move his fingers or grip anything. Eventually he learned how to eat, shave and brush his teeth with a specially made splint. He became strong enough to push a manual wheelchair, but only for a short duration; so he purchased a motorised chair for $8,000 with the help of Teamsters Union. After staying at GF Strong for seven months, the doctors advised his family to take him home. Before taking him home though, an elevator was installed in their two-storeyed house for $10,000, and some doorways were widened.

On March 16, 1996, Jaspal came home to a house full of people who were all waiting for him to come up the elevator. There were tough times at home too, as the members had to get used to home care aids coming to their home twice a day to get Jaspal in and out of bed. It was also difficult for Jaspal, who was once very active, to just sit and watch everyone do things for him. His life had changed, but he began to adjust slowly.

During his stay at GF Strong he had seen some fellow patients getting training for driving licence. Jaspal met doctors at GF Strong to see if he would be able to drive, the doctor advised him to go to George Pearson, where they did some tests to see if his arms and shoulders would be strong enough. They approved, so Jaspal travelled every day to Vancouver by handy dart to get lessons. Once he got his licence, he bought a second hand van with a lift in it for $25,000. The floor of the van was six inches low, so that he could drive his wheelchair straight to the steering wheel and be able to drive sitting in his wheelchair. The vanís doors could also be opened and closed by remote control. These special hand controlled vans are manufactured on order by Labron mobility and cost approximately $60,000. Jaspal became mobile and could drive anywhere he liked. He could pick up his children from school or take his wife to the stores. A few years ago he even drove his family to Edmonton for a vacation.

Even though Canada is a well developed country, there are still places that are not as accessible as they should be for a disabled. When a person suffers from a physical disability, the worst fear he is plagued with is of other people accepting him. Jaspal commented that very few people besides his family and friends, gave him moral support.

During my talk with him, he told me that he intends visiting Punjab, his birth place again, but doubts whether any type of facilities required for disabled persons would be available at shopping complexes, private offices, buses and airports. I assured him that the Government of India as per provisions of Disability Act, 1995, was making appropriate provisions in the building design and even making changes in the existing buildings to enable disabled persons to reach every public place.