April 16th 2011:
“I was at a friend’s party. I knew I was going to get drunk, so I didn’t take my car to the party that evening. My friend’s house was not too far from my house, so I just walked.”
Dean Wardak like any other 18 year old guy, loved his parties, hanging out with his buddies and sports. “Basically just having a good time.”
“That particular night, I got wasted. But I remember nothing from that night. I barely remember anything from that day either,” says Dean. “Whatever I am telling you now, are just things I’ve been told by my family and my doctors.”
Which might actually be a blessing in disguise.
“Apparently I was so drunk that I walked out of the party bare feet and without my jacket on.” Dean walked back to his house alright. But then the alcohol in him overpowered his thinking power completely as he got into his parked car in the driveway of his house and went out for a spin.
“I don’t know why I got into the car when I had already reached home.” All he had to do was get into his bed and go to sleep. “I don’t know where I was going,” wonders Dean.
Probably to a life that got designed for him the moment he spun off in his car, completely inebriated, crashing into a tree minutes later.
2 weeks later
Dean opened his eyes out of his coma in the ICU of a hospital.
By then it was too late.
Meet Dean Wardak, HPR Hero of the month.
An undergrad student of Home Renovations at the Humber College in Etobicoke, this young man had a well-planned life ahead of him.
“I lost my mother in 2007. Since then, my father looked after us and we decided that both my brother and I would pursue our home renovation skills in the real estate market.”
Academically inclined, Dean loved his sports. “I played recreational hockey in the Mississauga hockey league and was also in the high school curling team. I loved to play the guitar and snowboarding was my passion.”
Life was smooth. Until that fateful night.
“When I got up in the hospital, I didn’t know why I was there.” Surrounded by doctors and nurses and his family all around him, nothing made sense to Dean. But he hurt.
“They said that I had been saved, but confirmed to me that life as I had known it, was never going to be same again.” Dean explains how doctors had their doubts about his recovery, and whether he would ever be able to talk or walk, or function normally in his life ever again.
“Nothing made sense to me even as my father tried to recount the entire incident to me.” Dean was a blank slate.
“I finally got what they were trying to tell me when I was shown a newspaper article about a horrific accident in the area I live in. The article read that a young man had crashed into a tree, which caused him severe brain injury. It read that the intoxicated driver was driving 100 km/hour at a 40 zone. That driver was me,” Dean shakes his head.
He preserves the newspaper article with him till today, 4 years later, and goes onto read how he was found with no vital signs at the scene of the accident, and it took the firefighters 45 minutes to extract him from his vehicle, so badly mangled was his body into the smashed car.
“My father was out on the streets looking for me in the middle of the night, and finally saw the scene of the accident which was cordoned off by the police, ambulance and the fire fighters.”
Recognizing the car only by the number plate, the helpless father knew at that moment, that his boy lay there.
Severe spinal cord injuries along with extreme brain trauma left Dean battling for breath with the help of a life support system. “They didn’t think I was going to make it. A nurse working on me who also attended the same church wanted to call the priest to read me my last rites.”
But Dean was meant to live. Strapped to a wheelchair, with little control over his speech and his muscles. Dean was meant to live with his brain capacity reduced to that of a two year old and uncontrollable emotions among other things.
“Thank God I didn’t hit someone else that night. Thank God I only hurt myself,” he says. “But I just couldn’t believe anything that was happening. I thought this was all a horrid, horrid nightmare.” All that Dean wanted, was to get up from his hospital bed and walk away, back to his life, back home.”
But things had changed for forever.
“Here I am, ‘alive and kicking’!” Dean says.
Almost 5 years since the accident, still strapped to his wheelchair, one can understand Dean’s speech with some difficulty. “You should have heard me until last year,” Dean beams with pride, “You could barely understand me then. I have made huge progress in the last one year!”
And who does Dean thank? His family. "Family is everything"
Dean's strongest support system till date, championing him on are his dad and mum, his siblings, his closest friends and of course, his faith and his Church.
Little things. That the rest of us take for granted. Dean has to relearn. With the help of physiotherapists, speech therapists, and a barrage of other doctor prescribed exercises and medicines. Little by little. “I don't ever expect to retire my wheelchair permanently. If you expect too much, then you may get hurt one day. I’m OK being in the wheelchair. Now I just take each day as it comes.”
Plans of home renovations and real estate are all a very small part of distant dreams lost in Dean’s past. “But I would love to strap on my snowboard once again,” he says joyously.
Till such time, Dean is busy being an example to many: high school students, those at his church and patients in hospitals. “If I can recover, so can you!” is Dean’s mantra to all. A cancer patient who has been given a few more years to live reached out to Dean during one of his presentations at a church, presided by over 6000 people in one weekend. “If I have the will to overcome my fear of the ultimate, it is because of the hope and strength you have given to me through your example,” he tells Dean. Gratitude surrounds Dean, wherever he goes.
Dean carries his custom made power point presentation to schools regularly now, reiterating the value of life. “I designed it myself!” he says with an air of excitement around his extremely precious creation. His presentation conveys a story of his life before and after his accident, complete with pictures. A story he believes must be told to teens at that age.
“When you’re young, you imagine bad things will never happen to you,” Dean tells his audience that include high school students full of raging hormones. But once he starts showing the slides that he has designed carefully for them as he struggles to convey each slide with his constricted speech, there is pin drop silence. “I tell them to look at me. I was just one of them not too long ago but this has actually happened to me, it can happen to anyone,” he convinces all in his audience what drinking and driving can actually do to you. “We’re young, not invincible, as we think.”
So moved are these teens that each time he leaves, there are at least a few people in tears. “But the point is made,” he says.
According to Statistics Canada, impaired driving has been a recognized criminal act in Canada since 1921. Despite a sizable drop in the impaired driving rate since the mid-1980s, impaired driving is the leading cause of criminal death in Canada. Impaired driving continues to be an important issue for governments throughout Canada, as well as for police services, the justice system, community organizations and the general public.
“If I am able to persuade even one person to say no to drinking and driving, then it is a blessing,” Dean continues. And he finds that he is on the right track when students come to him to promise him the same.
While Dean continues to visit schools and churches, youth groups and hospitals with his presentation, his future plans now include going back to college and completing his undergrad in either social work or in psychology. “I want to give back for all the help that I received from the hospital when I had lost the will to go on. Once I complete my education, I will work to serve patients in need of help, in need of confidence, in need of encouragement and in need of motivation to go on, because those are the things that I received. It is time to pay it forward.”
Dean Wardak, you are already paying it forward to hundreds, exemplifying through your own life, deterring the youth from making poor life altering decisions.
Thank you for doing your bit to make sure kids return home safe.
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