Above photo: Walt Lawrence surrounded by his GF Strong Rehab Centre friends, co-workers and champions.
At 67, Walt Lawrence has lived a full life as a ventilator-dependent quadriplegic for a remarkable 50 years — beating the average by at least 25 years. He is quite possibly the longest-surviving ventilator-dependent quadriplegic in B.C.
“I could fill BC Place with everyone I'm grateful to," says the GF Strong (GFS) Rehab Centre peer mentor. “Most of them have no idea how much they've contributed to my journey. Some of those people have passed and may never have known how much they mean to me."
When Walt casually mentioned the fiftieth anniversary of his life-changing injury to Karen Anzai earlier this year, she was inspired. A rehab consultant at GFS, Karen has worked closely with Walt on many projects, including the launch of the centre's peer support program.
“Walt and I have developed a lovely friendship over our almost 25 years of working together," says Karen. “When he mentioned that he'd been on a ventilator for coming up to 50 years, I saw it as an amazing opportunity to celebrate someone who's defied the odds and is still here."
Video courtesy of Walt Lawrence and family.
On September 23, a capacity crowd of 250 guests gathered at the Tsawwassen Springs Ballroom to celebrate Walt — and for Walt to celebrate them.
“The celebration wasn't about me, but rather about the people who've enabled me to do what all of us fundamentally desire to do: contribute to others' lives," says Walt.
“I devalued myself when I was first injured," he admits. “There were a lot of people who showed me care and compassion, and I feel privileged to have had so many people be there for me over the years and I wanted to acknowledge them. We all have people who've impacted our lives; we all need to be aware of this and let them know we're grateful."
Vivian Eliopoulos, chief operating officer for Vancouver Acute, was among the guest speakers. “It was my sincere honour to attend," says Vivian. “Walt has been on a remarkable journey; his story is a testament to his inner strength and a lesson to us all on the importance of listening to the patient and never underestimating their capabilities."
Referring to his GF Strong co-workers, many of whom were at the celebration, Walt says they're an extraordinary group.
“My co-workers have always encouraged me, and my managers have helped me see where I could contribute more. The centre has a world reputation for rehab. I attended a conference in Japan and heard how they wanted to replicate our spine program. That's the kind of impact the staff have."
Inspiring, long-surviving disability advocate Walt Lawrence grateful for 50 years of support (The Vancouver Sun)
Defying the odds 50 years on