Can-Do-Ability: Answers and Solutions from my personal experiences of living with a disability

Who Needs A Working Spinal Cord When You Have An Awesome Attitude

27 Jan 2012I was completely blown away by a picture that one of my Facebook friends posted this morning, so much so, that it's led to today's blog….

You see, when you have over 4000 virtual friends, like I do, it's hard to keep track of what everyone on my list is up to, but it doesn't mean that there's any less love. And, by being my ‘friend', you are helping to spread my all important message of disability awareness and inclusion.

So, back to today's blog. This morning, one of the most spectacular painted pictures that I've ever seen, popped up in my news feed, but, when I clicked on it to get a better view, I almost fell out of my wheelchair.

After a bit of Facebook ‘stalking', I learnt that the painting's artist, Barry West, is paralysed, and only has the use of his head and neck. Since his accident, fifteen years ago, Barry has now taught himself how to paint, only using his mouth, with specially adapted paintbrushes.

When Barry was just 19 years old, he was active, and already running his own successful gardening business in England, he was loving life. One rainy day in May, 1996, he was driving along a road, when a badger ran out in front of him. He swerved to avoid the wild animal, and his van slammed into a tree, with the roof caving in on top of him, trapping him in his vehicle, he remained there for over an hour, while rescue workers tried to free him.

Once freed from the twisted wreckage, he was rushed to hospital. After he was x-rayed, it was established that Barry had broken his neck in two places, permanently damaging his spinal cord. His parents were told to come to the hospital because he was in a critical condition, they arrived shortly after him, and his mother was relieved to hear him talking normally, expelling any fears she held that he may have been brain damaged.

Barry was transferred to another hospital, which was better equipped to handle his serious condition. However, on the way, both of his lungs collapsed. He was diverted to another hospital for a few days, until they could stabilize his breathing, with the assistance of a ventilator.

Having been transferred to a spinal unit in yet another hospital, Barry awoke from a medically induced coma, which the doctors put him in to stabilize his condition, he was concerned that he was late for work, and asked someone to call a workmate to let them know, only to be told that it had already been a month since the accident.

After spending almost a whole year in hospital, waiting for his vertebrae to heal, and receiving rehabilitation, Barry was finally allowed to go home. It was then that reality set in, and he felt frightened and alone, wondering what the future held for him.

One of his former gardening clients brought around a computer for Barry to use, to keep him occupied. He eventually became skilled at typing and using a mouse with the assistance of a mouth stick. This skill then turned into a hobby, where Barry began to create logos and business cards, and ultimately, t-shirts.

He then got into playing blow-darts with mates, at home, and down at his local pub. He became so good though, that he ended up competing against able bodied world champions in a two day tournament. He came away feeling like the champion, despite being defeated.

Barry then joined a charitable spinal cord injury support group, called ‘Back Up'. The group focuses on giving back to spinal injury patients, their confidence, and lust for life. Which is definitely what they did for Barry.

Since joining ‘Back Up', Barry has overcome his fear of heights, by parasailing and skydiving, he has been pushed and pulled through a forest and along snowfields in his wheelchair, by a group called ‘Westy's Warriors'. Barry has also been lucky enough to go scuba diving, abseiling, sailing, flying a plane, plus he's been to numerous amazing countries that only some of us dream of visiting. In 2008, Barry was shocked when he was presented with the Most Inspirational Person of the Year Award, from ‘Back Up'.

Now Barry is a running his own courses through the ‘Back Up' program, where he is leading teams of people who are needing some inspiration and motivation, like he did once. He is now living alone, with his dog Sidney. He has a girlfriend, who visits him as much as possible, and he gets help around the house, from a group of personal assistants, and he is back to loving life.

His girlfriend encouraged him to try and paint a picture of a shark one day, from a photograph. He had never painted before, but gave it a go anyway, and he is a natural! He now paints everything, from scenery to ducks. Barry only uses his mouth to paint, but by looking at his work, you would never know unless someone told you. His art is truly amazing and has to be seen to be believed.

To find out more about Barry, and to see some of his incredible artwork, visit his website here: http - after taking a look, hopefully he'll inspire you to get off your butt and get out into the world, and as Barry says; One Life, Live It! And Bring It On!!!

Join me on Facebook!

Barry skiing

Being towed along by Westy's Warriors

Scuba diving

Skydiving in his Superman outfit


Kayaking with his nephew and his dog Sidney, who is always by his side

Barry with his girlfriend

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