Pilot Project

By British Columbia Parapalegic Association

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Yes, it’s true – the British Columbia Paraplegic Association celebrated a milestone birthday a few years back.  For 50+ years, they’ve been helping people with spinal cord injuries rebuild their lives!

We could tell you many amazing stories about their 50-year history and the incredible people that they’ve crossed paths with during that time.  We could tell you lots about the wonderful ways in which the BC Paraplegic Association makes a difference.  But… we’re sure you’d rather hear from someone who has been here from the beginning.

Ben Stam will tell you himself that he’s an “old-timer”.  He has been around since BCPA put down its roots over half a century ago.  And he has also marked his own anniversary of sorts – more than 50 years of living life from a wheelchair.

Ben clearly remembers the day he was injured a little over 50 years ago.  There was a light drizzle in the air, but it didn’t stop a group of adventurous teenagers from hiking Bridal Falls near Chilliwack.  17-year old Ben was happy to be enjoying the outdoors with his girlfriend and pals, until suddenly the earth gave way beneath his feet.  He didn’t fall far, but it was far enough.  From that moment on, Ben couldn’t move – and he was a paraplegic.

“My world collapsed when the doctors told me I wouldn’t have use of my legs”, says Ben.  “The thought of being condemned to life in a wheelchair was crushing, almost more than I could bear.  But what could I do?”

Life for a paraplegic was different back then.  Ben recalls the early days, “It wasn’t like now.  There really wasn’t much in the way of support for people like me, at least not until BCPA came along.  In fact, my parents almost lost their house because of the medical expenses related to my injury.  And getting around was nearly impossible.  There were no accessible sidewalks at all near our home.”

But Ben wasn’t one to give up.  After a lengthy rehabilitation, he was ready to resume his life.  And a newly formed organization, the BC Paraplegic Association, was there to help him.  It was BCPA who helped Ben land a job as an assembler at an electronic equipment plant.  He will never forget the passion of those early BCPA staff members, “They had a real desire to help people like me and they battled hard with the authorities to make sure we were treated fairly.” 

It was also BCPA who helped Ben realize a new-born dream.  A colleague of Ben’s and former air force pilot often talked of his flying days and the incredible feeling of freedom when in the air.  Ben was hooked and longed to leave behind his wheelchair.  But the aviation authorities would not grant Ben a pilot’s license because of his injury.

Again, Ben was not one to give up.  With the help of BCPA, Ben fought to make his dream come true.  It took three long years, but he was finally victorious.  In 1970, Ben became the first Canadian paraplegic granted a license to fly!  He says, “My initial flight was absolutely beautiful.  I’ll never forget the freedom.  And I’m so pleased that together with BCPA, we paved the way for other paraplegics to experience the wonder of flying.” After all….the vision of the B.C. Paraplegic Association is “A World Without Barriers”!

Ben’s accomplishments are profiled in a display at the Canadian Museum of Flight, located in Langley, B.C. Included in the display is a short video produced by CBC-TV from 1970.               

Today, Ben is enjoying retirement with his wife – yes, he married his sweetheart who was with him on that tragic day over 50 years ago.  They love to travel, spend time with their two granddaughters and fish….Ben’s new passion.

Ben’s story shows what can be accomplished with determination.  For five decades, the BC Paraplegic Association has been the leading force in bringing about positive change for people who have suffered a spinal cord injury . . . everything from overcoming the physical and emotional challenges of living life in a wheelchair . . . to better housing and transportation . . . to improved public access and attitudes.  In fact, over their long history, they have helped more than 95,000 people live a better life.

And as people’s needs change, BCPA’s programs evolve.  Now that Ben is facing his golden years, he knows that there will be new challenges related to his injury.  And he is not alone.  With an aging population, we know that more and more seniors will need this support.  It’s predicted that within the next decade, older citizens will outnumber children in our society.  BCPA is taking steps to ensure that we address their special concerns.

Seniors with spinal cord injuries not only face a unique set of needs, doubts, questions and fears, but also dreams, goals and aspirations.  BCPA’s “50 Plus Program” is specially designed to bring seniors together.  Through social activities, community events and information seminars, seniors with injuries share and learn from each other.    They know from experience that this is one of the most powerful and lasting aspects of the healing process. The program relies on volunteers; successful people like Ben, to provide inspiration and guidance to those newly injured and help ensure “A World Without Barriers”. For more information about the BC Paraplegic Association go to www.bcpara.org

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