Successfully Navigating Life's Twists and Turns

Thursday, September 20, 2012

It is amazing the difference one second can make. August 14, 2008 started off just like any other day for Rick McAlister. Having just finished his morning routines, Rick was off to his job as a truck driver; a job he had proudly done for 32 years and that had allowed him to successfully raise his family.

While tending to the loading and unloading of his truck, an activity he had done a thousand times before, Rick had a workplace accident involving his left hand and a power jack. As the pain coursed through his left arm and body, Rick knew in that split second, his life had changed forever.

For the next year and a half, his life became a living hell. While the medical system waited to see if his arm could heal and repair itself, Rick began taking numerous amounts of narcotics and pain killers to try to deaden the pain; but it wasn’t working.  “The side effects from the 12 different kinds of medication were horrendous," says Rick.  “I was watching my life flow away from me, helpless to do anything to stop it.”

Knowing he could not go on any longer living like a zombie and unable to remember his own name or even where he was; Rick attempted to take his life.  Luckily, he was admitted to the hospital where he began the arduous journey of recovery thanks to the Doctors and Psychologist that worked with him.

A bone density scan on Rick’s left arm confirmed his Doctor’s worse fears – the arm was dying from the elbow down and would need to be removed. On October 27, 2009, Rick received a partial amputation to his left arm.  And life once again took a turn and changed forever.

“Here I was at 49 years old, an amputee, not having a clue what I was going to do,” says Rick. “I never realized the full impact my disability would have on me and in every area of my life - physically, emotionally – even sexually; the stress on my new wife Diana was incredible. It was a large hill to climb and thanks to her love and support, I was able to move back to Calgary and together we could start a new chapter in our lives.”

It turns out that these life experiences were all small hurdles getting Rick prepared to jump over the biggest life hurdle of them all – returning to work.  Being a truck driver was all he had known...and now that he couldn’t do that job anymore, Rick was left wondering ... what else he could do?

And so, Rick began sending out resumes, in fact, he sent out over 100 resumes and received 40 invites to interview.  However, with each interview that Rick attended, a common theme kept occurring, suddenly all the jobs were filled, or he was now over-qualified for the position. “I knew they were rejecting me because I was an amputee," says Rick, “and that hurt.”

Feelings of depression, self-rejection and failure loomed in Rick’s mind – with every rejection, it became harder to keep positive and continue looking for work. 

Thinking he had hit a dead end and believing he would never find employment, Rick was referred to Champions Career Centre. Champion Career Centre is a pan-disability serving Agency in Calgary that helps people with disabilities, like Rick, find meaningful employment based on their unique skills and abilities.

Champions met with Rick and reassured him that he had skills an employer would find valuable and set him up on a career plan for success. Champions assisted Rick in reviewing and redesigning his resume based on his current goals and objectives. Rick attended workshops for career and life skills development; along with networking with other clients who also faced fears and failures in returning to the workforce. Champions provided a resource area with phones, computers, publications, job postings and other assets to help Rick find employment.

“I am happy that I got involved in Champions. Here were people who understood what I was going through, they could understand my apprehension and were always there with a word of encouragement,” says Rick. “But don’t expect to get things handed to you on a silver platter. You are expected to show incentive and follow up on leads provided to you.”

Rick was able to secure seasonal employment in August 2011 on a farm driving tractor during the fall harvest.  His Champions’ Case Manager went out to the work site to ensure it was safe for Rick and that he was able to do the job that he had applied for.  Not only was Rick able to do the job – he did it so well that he received a Letter of Reference and offer of employment for the 2012 harvest.

Following the harvest, Rick secured a job in Grande Prairie, AB working for a company learning a new career in the Furnace, Air Conditioning and Sheet Metal Business. The deal was that Rick would work there for 4 months to acquire sufficient industry knowledge and then receive assistance to secure work in Calgary.  During his 4 months in Grand Prairie, Rick reached out to Champions staff for moral support and workplace accommodations.

In April 2012, Rick secured a full time job in Calgary with Ecco Heating working on their Order Desk. Champions has assisted Rick at Ecco Heating by providing a workplace evaluation to find tools to assist Rick in making his job easier – such as a phone headset and a one handed keyboard.
“Champions is there for me, whenever I am stressed and just need to talk. What the average healthy person does not understand about a person with a disability in the workforce is we need to work a lot harder to prove to employers that we are very capable of doing the job and deserve the same wages as a person without a disability. Thankfully,” says Rick, "Champions works with employers to ensure fair wages are presented.” 

With government cutbacks to programs, Rick is worried that people with disabilities will give up on themselves. “Not having anyone to believe in you, you develop feelings of being worthless, which for some people could mean suicide. Trust someone who has been down that road.”

But thanks to organizations like Champions, Rick is enjoying his new career and now life with Diana is filled with optimism and hope for a brighter future.


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