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Dustine West had worked hard to get his dream job, when one traumatic journey home changed his life as he knew it. Now Dustine is overcoming his accident by putting pen to paper.
After working in security for 11 years, Dustine thought it was time to take on a new life challenge and do a job that he had always dreamed of doing. “It took me a while to pluck up the courage to do it. It was a really big deal for me to get into the police, as I was risking everything by leaving a job that I was so secure in. There wasn’t a day I didn’t feel excited to wake up and go to work, even with the early starts”, Dustine gleams. He discusses his time working with the police with great pride.
All of Dustine’s hard work and determination to do well in the job paid off, as he received two commendations in his first year. “My team were great. I realised you had to learn quickly on the job. There was nothing to prepare you for what you had to deal with every day. Quite like when someone tells you that you will never walk again.”
A Day Like No Other
January 16th in 2011 was the day that changed Dustine’s life forever. After working his shift, Dustine had his final cup of coffee and got on his bike to take his usual route home. In some sense, a blessing that, he can’t recall the details of the accident: “After getting on my bike I do not remember anything else, for all I knew I was working and then woke up in a hospital bed not being able to talk or move.” Dustine was the victim of a hit and run on an unlit motorway. Thankfully another person drove past and stopped, getting him the help, he needed. The driver that hit Dustine was charged for being under the influence. “Your brain has a way of blanking out trauma, so in a way I am grateful that I can’t remember any pain at the time of the accident.”
As a result of that accident, Dustine sustained multiple injuries including his spinal cord injury. He is classified as an incomplete tetraplegic, meaning both his legs and his arms are affected. After waking up from being in an induced coma, a doctor came to tell Dustine and his family, who rushed to the hospital to be around him as soon as they heard the news, about his injuries. “They said you won’t be able to feel your legs or ever walk again. I had so many questions I needed answering. Where am I? Why am I here? How did this happen? I felt so scared.” Going from being an extremely active person with his job, for Dustine, this was a complete shock. It was a situation that no one could ever imagine being in. “The seriousness of it all was a lot to take in, not just for me but my family.”
Dustine was transferred to a spinal rehabilitation unit, where he stayed for seven months. His wife was at his side every day. “You had your bad days and then your better days. My saving grace was my wife. She was always there to support me. My family would encourage me to push myself, especially with physio, I was extremely lucky to have them there.”
Stippling Through Reality
One day at the unit, an occupational therapist came over to Dustine and encouraged him to take up his pre-accident hobby of drawing and join the weekly art class. Dustine was reluctant, with the result of his accident leaving him unable to move his arm; he thought to himself, “how will I be able to draw when I can’t move my hand very well?”, but he attended the class, and this is when he fell back in love with an old flame of his…his pen and paper.
“I have always loved art, from when I was a young boy in school to my adult days where I would be asked to do some sketches for my friends. I lost touch of it when I was with the police, as I didn’t have a lot of free time.” Dustine found that Stippling, a drawing technique in which areas of light and shadows are created with nothing but dots, was a way that he could accommodate the limited movement he has with his hand, to produce fantastic drawings.
Stippling helped Dustine in the darkest of times: “Stippling helped me when I was in the rehab unit, mostly when everyone had gone home. When I was alone, this would be the time I would start to reflect and dwell on what happened to me. Art helped me deal with it.” For Dustine, art has helped him escape his reality and adapt to his life being spinal cord injured.
Living in Hope
Most days, you will find Dustine tucked away in his office, with the radio on, drawing the day away. In his house, there are boxes full of his dramatic and eye-catching portraits. Another great thing to note about Dustine, is his drive to bring about change in the disability community. “I want to help break the stigma on how people view those who are in a wheelchair, so I do what I can to help with disability rights”. Having worked alongside many charities and companies, he explains that this has helped him reach out to new audiences with his drawings. “I want people to know that yes, I am in a wheelchair, my legs don’t work properly but I am still human and can have a hobby”.
There’s no doubt that Dustine, being the family man that he is, appreciates and recognises how fortunate he is after his accident. “Don’t get me wrong the last 10 years I have been able to spend more quality time with my family. I have gone through frustrations, and it has taken a while to feel this way, but life is too short. You have to look on the plus side.” Despite living a full and happy life, where he’s able to pursue his love of art, Dustine’s eyes light up at the mention of there being a cure. “Where can I sign up?!”
He was just at the peak of his career, ready to take it to the next level and take on more responsibility. When Dustine had his accident and learnt of his injury, his wife gave up her job to look after him. If there was a cure, not only would Dustine get his independence back and go back to working his dream job in the police; his wife would also be able to work again. “Me and my family were so happy before my accident. I would do anything to go back to that stage of my life.”
Wings for Life wants to help people like Dustine and make spinal cord injury curable. Thank you so much for helping us do it.