Each year on the anniversary of the day he became a paraplegic while roughhousing with friends, Dan Edwards celebrates.
That’s right. He celebrates.
“I celebrate because I could be dead,” he says. The spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the neck down brought enormous physical and emotional struggle.
Yet the 28-year-old celebrates.
“I know so many people who aren’t (alive) anymore, and here I am. So I always go for dinner with a special friend of mine on the anniversary. But for the tenth, I thought it would be cool to do something more,” he said.
Edwards is planning a major fundraiser at The Imperial Theatre so he can give back to the community that has supported him over the past decade. It’s part of the “Do It For Sarnia” campaign, started by Edwards in January to raise $150,000 for mental health services at Bluewater Health.
The campaign has already raised more than $40,000, including a $20,000 anonymous donation. Edwards is optimistic the evening at the theatre will give Do It For Sarnia another big boost.
People ask him all the time why he isn’t raising money for spinal cord research, but Edwards chose mental health with good reason.
“Every one of us has mental health and I really want to give back to the whole community,” he said.
Shortly after he was injured on Aug. 18, 2006, a team of Sarnians rallied to help Edwards and his family. Community leaders including former city councillor Dave Brown, former MPP Andy Brandt, Edwards’ teachers at St. Chris, and his friends’ parents began raising money to help with all the expenses related to his recovery. His house needed to be renovated to accommodate lifts and a wheelchair. Specialized equipment and a motorized wheelchair were required. Trips to London needed to be paid for, and more.
In total, the “Do It For Dan” campaign raised about $180,000 in cash and in-kind.
Beyond the money, the campaign team offered Edwards something more. They befriended him and his family, gave them emotional support and encouragement. During the dark days when physio was so hard, Dan’s team was there.
Edwards came away from the accident determined to stay positive and live productively. He also wants to give back.
He began motivational speaking to spread his message about overcoming life’s difficulties.
When a spate of suicides hit Sarnia’s youth, Edwards said he was even more determined to help if he could.
“Basically, my message is that s..t happens but it’s not the end of the world,” he said. “Things do get better.
“Everyone has bad days. I still do. But when I get down, I go listen to positive music. I’m around positive people and I find structure in writing.
“Before my accident I’d go for a run. Now I go for a drive.”
Eventually, he regained movement in his arms and wrists. His upper body strength improved and he began working out. He earned a diploma in business marketing at Lambton College. Four years ago, he was licensed to drive a customized vehicle.
On Aug. 18, Edwards will talk about adjusting to life in a wheelchair, and he will bring a new message that he has never presented before. The evening will also feature a documentary made with students in Lambton College’s digital photography program about dealing with mental health issues in Sarnia.
“The video isn’t just about me; it’s about people in our community who have gone through something related to mental health, and it highlights the resources in Sarnia,” he said.
Edwards’ fundraising is having an important impact on services at Bluewater Health, said the foundation’s director Kathy Alexander.
“Also, so incredibly important, is the awareness Dan is bringing to the issue of mental health in our community.
“The whole foundation team is honoured to be working with Dan.”
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Ten Years Later – An Evening with Dan Edwards
WHEN: Thursday, Aug. 18. 7 p.m.
WHERE: The Imperial Theatre
TICKETS: $30. At Bluewater Health Foundation office, at the theatre or at www.imperialtheatre.net. Includes reception afterward with cash bar and music.