Burn victim inspires Elk Valley graduates

John Westhaver educates students on road safety after surviving childhood crash

John Westhaver was given a second chance at life – and he’s determined not to waste it.

In 1994, the then-teenager was involved in an accident that would change his life forever. He, along with three of his best friends, were travelling in a car, which was flying down a road at 140km/hr when the driver lost control, skidded off the road, flipped multiple times and hit a telephone pole.

The driver was ejected from the car and died immediately. The car was a mangled wreck and burst into flames, with the other two passengers in the backseat and unable to escape.

Westhaver somehow managed to get out of the car but sustained burns to 75 per cent of his body. This is the last thing he remembers.

A month later, Westhaver woke up, covered in bandages. His family had been told he wasn’t going to make it. He recalled that seeing his face for the first time was hard, but finding out his friends didn’t make it was even harder.

As time passed, Westhaver learned to accept his scars.

He has devoted his life to speaking with teenagers about the importance of making good decisions, so that they can live long, happy and healthy lives.

Westhaver visited the Elk Valley last week on behalf of ICBC, speaking with the graduating students of both Fernie and Sparwood secondary schools.

He stressed that the decisions we make today affect so many people.

“I put my family through hell because of every choice that I made that day,” said Westhaver.

“What I want you guys to understand, is that your choices impact other people… people that care about you, the ones that can’t live without you,” he added.

Over the past 17 years, Westhaver has spoken to thousands of students around Canada and the United States.

In 2009, he became an active speaker with the ICBC Road Safety Speaker Program. He is also a trained volunteer with the Burn Survivor Group in Victoria and in 2017 received a Courage to Come Back Award.

Through these talks, Westhaver says he has come to realize how precious life is.

He acknowledged that not everyone gets a second chance and said he tries to ensure he makes the most of it, every day.

Suffering, explained Westhaver, exists inside ourselves. It’s created by ourselves and it’s important, even though it takes a great amount of willpower, to pull yourself out of this suffering, and learn to cope with it.

“When we have an opinion of who we are, like an identity, like a victim, we look for things in life that solidify this persona,” he said.

“After the crash, when someone would get upset or something, I would blow up. I was a big victim, I wasn’t responsible for who I was. I was letting my emotions run who I was and letting my situation run who I was; I wasn’t being powerful.”

When he learned how much his victimhood was affecting the people around him, Westhaver knew it was time to change.

“A long time,” he said when asked how long it took him to shake this mentality. “I’m still dealing with it.”

As the years have gone by, Westhaver has come to accept that scars don’t matter; it’s just skin.

“I love the way I look,” he said to the students. “I’m drop dead gorgeous!”

“It may sound strange but it’s true,” explained Westhaver in a post on his website.

“I love my scars as they are a part of who I am and what I am. I am a burn survivor and I am proud to be one. Without my scars I would never be the man I am today.”

Westhaver currently lives on Vancouver Island with his wife and three daughters.

To learn more about John, visit Johnwesthaver.com.

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