Saskatchewan teen amputee finds passion in music, constructs device to play guitar

Click to play video 'Music becomes outlet for Sask. teen amputee' Music becomes outlet for Sask. teen amputee
WATCH ABOVE: Dillon Gazandlare was born missing a forearm, but that hasn't stopped him from finding a way to play guitar. Now, his sights are set on becoming a performing artist. Julia Wong reports.

A northern Saskatchewan teen is not letting his amputation get in the way of dreams of becoming a performing artist.

Dillon Gazandlare, 16, is from Wollaston Lake, Sask., roughly 12 hours north of Saskatoon. He was born with a below elbow amputation.

Dillon was always interested in music but because he does not have a prosthetic, he ran into challenges trying to play the guitar.

A photo of Dillon as a child holding a guitar.
A photo of Dillon as a child holding a guitar. Courtesy/Darlene Gazandlare
“After about 10 to 20 minutes of playing, [my stump] would really start to hurt,” he said.
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So the teen brainstormed to find a way around that.

“I had this green tape. I used that and paper and wrapped it around my hand a couple of times,” Dillon said.

Dillon finished making the “extension,” which is composed of duct tape, in January. He has been fine-tuning it ever since.

“It adds a little bit… [of a] longer grasp on the strings,” he said. “It gives me more styles to play. It gives me more out there, you can say.”

The teen also plays the ukulele, piano and drums and uses his homemade extension to help him play the drums.

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It seems Dillon, who taught himself to play the guitar, would be helpless without the extension.

“Without it, I personally don’t think I would get very far in music,” he said. “Last year, I probably would have given up on guitar and just given up on music in general.”

The teen is one of approximately 100 attendees at the western regional War Amps conference for child amputees. The rotating event is being held in Edmonton this year and includes attendees from B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

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Dillon said older amputees serve as inspiration for young people like himself.

“Seeing they live very productive lives, that helps me out a lot – knowing that other amputees have gone farther, they’ve gotten bigger,” he said.

Annae Jones, Alberta representative for War Amps, said the event is vital for child amputees.

“I grew up in the child amputee program,” she said. “As a youngster, I was born missing both of my arms. Coming to these conferences every year was a huge highlight for me.

“A child amputee seminar becomes a place of friendship and second family to all of us I believe. As a child, seeing older amputees happy and smiling and doing regular things that other people do, made me realize I don’t have to let my amputation be a limit to me – that I needed to just accept myself for who I was and move forward with it and figure out different ways to do the things I wanted to do.”

Darlene Gazandlare, Dillon’s mother, said she has seen his self-esteem and confidence increase after music became his passion.

A recent photo of Dillon Gazandlare with his guitar near Banff, Alta.
A recent photo of Dillon Gazandlare with his guitar near Banff, Alta. Courtesy/Darlene Gazandlare

“I thought it was going to be difficult for him because of his amputation, but he’s shown me over the years – even by learning how to crawl and even learning how to ride a bike – that nothing is going to stop him,” she said.

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“Like every other thing that life has thrown [at him]… he’s learned how to conquer it.”

Darlene, who said Dillon faced bullying and reached low points being the only amputee in their small town, said a workshop that introduced him to music will take him places.

“Nothing is going to stop him.”

The regional conference wraps up in Edmonton on Sunday.