Calgary’s Roy Smith grew up expecting to become a farmer but after a tragic accident that left him paralyzed, he has adapted — which has included taking up a career as a bookkeeper.
Smith is a man who has been through a lot, including dropping out of high school, becoming paralyzed at 18-years-old and going through rehab for his injuries. But through it all, he remains positive.
Currently, Smith is partially retired but continues to do bookkeeping for some clients. Although Smith’s story can be seen as tragic he is able to maintain a good attitude towards life.
Both Smith’s brother, Greg Smith, and his personal care assistant Suzanne Whitney say he is pragmatic about the accident, as well as life in general.
“We would never see him down,” says Greg. “He's always got a positive attitude.”
“No matter how bad it gets, you just keep going. Keep a smile on your face. No matter how bad it gets, somebody's got it worse.” - Roy Smith
The events surrounding Smith’s accident are a compelling story of how an innocent swim in the river caused a life-altering disability. He and his group of friends had been to the same river spot many times before and mistakenly believed that it was safe.
“We had a lot of snow that winter and a lot of rain in the spring, and it was the current that changed the bottom of the river,” Smith says.
That made the sandbar Smith dove into higher than the year before.
“I dove in and I found the sandbar and I was floating face down in the river and realizing I couldn't breathe or I had to hold my breath and I just couldn't hold it anymore,” Smith says. “And I remember trying to breathe again and just swallowed a bunch of water. Then a friend that was with us realized I was having trouble, so he came in and got me out and they laid me on a beach.”
Unfortunately, Smith and the friend that rescued him no longer have a relationship.
“He figured if he’d taken me out of the river differently, my neck might not have been broken, maybe it was the way he carried me out. He thought he broke my neck,” Smith says. “Which is not true because I was instantly paralyzed. But if he hadn't got me out of the river, I'd be dead.”
Smith has tried to rekindle a relationship with his friend, however, he has not been successful.
“He still blames himself today,” he says.
Smith was transported by ambulance to Claresholm Hospital, where after an assessment, he was moved to what is now known as Rockyview General Hospital, where he started his journey to recovery.
Roy Smith sitting in his living room discussing his life as a bookkeeper after the accident. Photo by Mya Ayotte
“I was in ICU for probably two and a half months I guess before they let me out,” he says.
“I couldn't talk…I was going through a really rough time [during] the first couple of months and I kind of made friends with our respiratory technician. She could communicate with me and she knew I was going through problems," Smith says. "She called in the family and the doctor. And after that, things went a lot smoother. I kind of realized that I was going to be here for a while and would probably never walk again.”
Greg noted that his brother would often say, “No matter how bad it gets, you just keep going. Keep a smile on your face. No matter how bad it gets, somebody's got it worse.”
Smith’s accident had a major effect on his entire life, as can be expected from a full spinal cord break.
The accident was so severe that Smith is no longer able to use his legs and only has a small range of motion in his left arm. Smith has had to adapt to everything in his life, including his mobility and his privacy, as well as how he eats and works.
“I've adapted fairly well,” he said. “I am a bookkeeper, so I use a mouse stick for typing on the keyboard and mouse. I've got a special trackball mouse, which makes things a lot easier for me when I'm working on the computer.”
Whitney, one of Smith’s personal care attendants, has known him for 25 years. She helps him with daily tasks such as laundry, housework and meal preparation.
“He seems to have done very well with it,” says Whitney. “He doesn't appear to be bitter about it — he's gone on and he's made a life for himself.”
Smith noted his family has always been supportive. His brother Greg says no one in the family had any experience with quadriplegia (paralysis caused by injury or illness), but everyone adapted. The brothers also became much closer after the accident.
“I don't know why it changed,” says Greg Smith. “It just changed and we became best friends.”
- By Mya Ayotte