A Calgary teenager is facing life in a wheelchair after a night of tobogganing with friends went tragically wrong.
Alex was celebrating his fifteenth birthday at around 8 p.m. Dec. 21, sledding down a snowy hill hill just off Silver Springs Road N.W.
“We knew the light posts were there. We just lined up in between them and hoped that we wouldn’t hit anything,” Alex said.
“I went down the hill, my toboggan turned on me, and I went head first into a light post–breaking my spine.”
It was Alex’s friend who called Stella, Alex’s mom.
“His friend had called to say, ‘hey, Alex had fallen tobogganing…and he can’t feel his legs,'” Stella, who declined to provide the family’s last name, said.
She said her son will probably never walk again.
Calgary’s children’s hospital sees as many as two dozen serious injuries on toboggan hills every winter–head and spinal cord injuries, femur fractures, abdominal and lung injuries. Health officials say these injuries are very preventable and can be avoided in many cases by choosing the right place to sled.
“Things like helmets always will prevent those major mishaps that we see,” Alberta Children’s Hospital trauma coordinator Sherry MacGillivray said.
In addition to wearing helmets, health officials recommend children and their parents check hills very carefully for hazards before they start sledding: look for things like power poles and fences; make sure you’re not sliding out into roadways or over frozen ponds.
And they say children under five years old should always slide with an adult.
The City of Calgary has a list of 22 hills for safe sledding (scroll down to read the full list). Parks department manager Todd Reichardt said they’re evaluated based on slope and grade, to determine how fast a sled will travel, and to make sure there are no obstacles or jumps created.
“We really try to promote being safe, being aware, and going to those locations where we can achieve that,” Reichardt said. “As far as I’m aware, since the inception of the bylaw, there has been nary a single bylaw ticket issued for somebody tobogganing outside one of these 22 locations.”
Alex wasn’t sledding in a city-sanctioned area. His mom hopes her story will make others think twice before sliding down snowy hills.
“Maybe not an appropriate decision – he’s 15. When do 15-year-olds make appropriate decisions?” Stella said. “But how does this – equal that?
“I know that if my son would hear a story like this a week or two before he went [sledding] that his decision would have been different and that’s our hope.”
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