She's All Heart Michelle Salt

Never one to shy away from a challenge, Michelle Salt is a small-town girl who decided to move to the big city. That adventure pales in comparison to her steepest trial after a horrific motorcycle crash should have claimed her life. Her next big test, the 2014 Paralympic Games’ snowboard course in Sochi, Russia, as a fresh amputee, and Canada’s first-ever female Paralympic snowboarder at the event. Salt has always loved the thrill of speed... a blessing and a curse. She competed in natural luge competitions as a kid, developing her love of speed very early on. Her parents managed a luge track and at just eight years old, Salt was racing down the course at 80 km/h trying to avoid frozen hay bales and stubborn trees. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. On a beautiful summer evening in Calgary in 2011, Salt lost.

She had been a proud motorcycle owner for only 10 days. “I had this feeling in my gut that day that something wasn’t right,” she says looking back. She lost control at 120 kilometres an hour. Her body and her bike skipped across the pavement until brusquely halted by a guardrail. Passersby rushed in to help. Speed was now her only hope.

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Serve and Protect Craig Tourangeau

June 9, 1994. A date that left an indelible mark on Craig Tourangeau’s mind and body. Twenty-odd years later he remembers every detail of that spring morning in Nanaimo like it was just yesterday. Soldiers of course are trained to acutely attend to every nuance around them. But this is different.

He was serving in the military’s Special Forces Unit, engaged in a training exercise with the RCMP. His unit was deployed to British Columbia to support Victoria’s Commonwealth Games with a higher level of security. This was not combat. There was no safety threat. His team was simply going through their daily paces to stay sharp and on their game, a customary cog of military life. One year later, by his own accord, he was looking for a job. “Back then,” he tells, “the military’s approach to pain management was atrocious. There really wasn’t such a thing. It was a ‘carry-on’ mentality, a culture of ‘everything is good.’ Walking out the hospital door the doctor asked if I was ‘good to go?’ ‘Yep,’ I said. ‘See ya’.” One year later Tourangeau was sworn in as a Constable with the Toronto Police Service.

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Taking Action Aristotle Domingo

Aristotle Domingo looked at his life in 2017 and thought, “No, this can’t be it,” and then did something about it. “I was a new amputee then and I found myself sitting on the couch, out of shape… it was not what I wanted. I got other amputees together and formed the Amputee Coalition of Toronto (ACT) after finding a void in the support system. When I left the hospital I felt alone, yet I wanted to feel part of a community. I went to the United States and came back with knowledge to share in Ontario after becoming a certified peer visitor.”

The value of community is impossible to overstate. “Hearing ‘I feel that way too!’ is powerful,” maintains Domingo. “It is validating. Everyone can learn from others.”

Domingo has parlayed his experiences into becoming a known voice for amputees, using the group’s vision and social media to advocate for the needs of the amputee community. Television and movie producers contact him as a resource. He has played parts in commercials and helped find amputees who might fill a specific role. A busy role model now, active and ever-expanding his social network, Domingo finds little time for his couch.

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Stepping Stones Christine Caron

Four years ago, Christine Caron, a middle-aged Ottawa woman, saw life as she knew it shockingly transformed, but the monumental changes were not as tall as her towering spirit. In the swish of a dog’s tail, she faced enormous medical adversities. “One word,” she maintains, “got me through”.

While playing tug-of-war with her four dogs, one of her Shitzus barely punctured her left hand with its teeth. Christine properly disinfected the wound. A nick that brought no pain or discolouration, she thought nothing further of it. However, all her loving pets continued to lick the wound, perhaps sensing that she was already feeling physically low, unaware that she was fighting walking pneumonia.

With her immune system depleted, she suffered a rare reaction to the bacteria capnocytophaga canimorsus, which rarely affects humans, and sepsis set in. Confused and ill, she was driven to a local emergency clinic. Doctors told her that portions of her face, her kidneys and all four of her limbs needed to be amputated to stay alive.

“BELIEVE is the word that brought me through, my mantra, and my message. BELIEVE in whatever you BELIEVE in; BELIEVE in it wholeheartedly.”

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Making Big Strides Jericho Rodriguez

In a hospital delivery room giving birth to her third child, Joy Rodriguez wasn’t expecting to hear the words her husband calmly and lovingly whispered in her ear after their second son entered the world. From his first gaze at his newborn boy he said: “He’s beautiful, but I don’t think he’ll ever be able to walk.” Jericho was born with two club feet and cleft hands.

He was a fighter from the very start. Joy remembers what a happy baby he was, which made the road ahead of them look a little less steep. “Being born this way, Jericho didn’t know life any differently,” she tells, inadvertently comparing his circumstance to an acquired disability. “I believe that allowed our family to adjust naturally and at our own pace.”

When Jericho was just a month old a specialist at Sick Kids Hospital asked Joy if the family had heard of The War Amps organization. Joy had not, and with that the practitioner made the introduction. Joy regards The War Amps as a guardian angel, right there to lend a helping hand, making a monumental difference in their lives. That kind of unconditional support allowed her and her husband to focus on their family. “It strengthened our family’s foundation,” she says.

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Shaping Self-Esteem Mary Anne Jackson

The happily married, 56-year-old mother of three grown children is matter-of-fact about her missing limb. But it wasn’t always that way. A congenital amputee, she grew up in Toronto during the 60s and 70s, a time when inclusion wasn’t part of the conversation.

Like many amputees, Mary Anne grew up wearing a succession of artificial limbs. When she was ten she was fitted with a body-powered upper-extremity prosthesis, with the figure-8 harness. It didn’t help her self-esteem as a teenager when she got the ignominious nickname, Captain Hook. “I put on a strong face, but inside I felt differently. There were a lot of tears from being excluded from social activities because I only had one hand.”

Amazing advances in technology have changed perceptions of disability. But so has fashion. Thanks to the popularity of tattoos, more prosthesis wearers are forgoing conventional flesh-coloured ones that blend in for ones that stand out, expressing their personality. Blending in with others became especially important when Mary Anne started her career. That’s when she discovered the Pillet Hand. For Mary Anne, it was a game changer in terms of how it improved her self-image. “I’m not trying to hide anything. People ask about it, but they’re not asking about what happened to me. They’re asking about the arm which is cool.”

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