LETHBRIDGE - On July 15, 2015, just five days after marrying the love of his life, 26-year-old Levi Stanford nearly died.
Stanford loved pyrotechnics. He was considering working in the field of demolition, when he went to an area near the St. Mary Reservoir outside of Cardston with his wife, and a few members of his family.
He had designed a pyrotechnic display for the water, so that when it ignited, a huge geyser would shoot into the air. A family member took along a video camera, to capture what they hoped would be a spectacular display. Instead, the camera caught a terrifying explosion.
"Unfortunately, something went wrong, and it went off early in my hand," he explained. "Basically, near my face. And so there was two-and-a-half pounds of this really powerful explosive that should have killed me instantly...we got the whole thing on video. The whole accident."
Stanford says the force of the blast blew all his clothes off, shredded his right hand and a leg, and took off his left hand. Because of the condition he was in, his family couldn't lift him to carry him out of the remote area. So, he had to walk.
"I crawled up this embankment and had to walk across this huge abandoned train bridge that has all of these large trusses. I had to walk across blind, there was so much blood, and my arms were around my sisters."
He eventually made it to his truck and was then taken to a waiting ambulance with his wife.
"I said goodbye to my wife. I didn't think I was going to make it."
But he did make it.
Stanford was taken to Cardston Hospital, then transferred to Foothills Hospital in Calgary where he was placed in an induced coma for the next six days.
"When I woke up, I was filled with so much joy to be alive, considering the situation I was in... I opened up my right eye to see my wife standing there, smiling back at me."
Doctors told him he would be hospitalized for six months, but with hard work, he was in the hospital for 57 days and weaned himself off pain medication. Lots of physical therapy has helped him re-learn to use his right hand and to play the piano again.
He has even welded 15 of his own prosthetic attachments, including a spatula to flip burgers on a grill and a hot dog roasting attachment.
"It's extendable, and I made it rotisserie-style, so I can spin it and cook the hot dog," he laughs.
And that's how he breaks the ice when he starts his speeches - by showing off his ingenuity and making jokes. Stanford spoke to students at Wilson Middle School on the first day of classes (Sept. 5), to tell them it's ok to be different and to let them know that everyone will go through tough times.
"My first initial thing when I start talking to the students, I say 'I was afraid I wasn't going to make it here today, because I'm a little short-handed,' you know, and I just have these horrible one-handed puns, ...and the kids think, ok, he's easy going."
When he speaks to the kids, he tells them it's ok to be different, and if they are faced with adversity - and in their lives they will be - that there are ways to overcome that and to move on. He also talks about ways children can deal with bullying issues when they occur, and how to set and achieve goals in their lives.
Not only that, as a musician, he also sings and plays instruments to show how far he's come. Standford muses that he never thought he would become a motivational speaker, but it felt like the right path to take after his accident. He says his family and community support means the world to him.
"You know what? There's a lot of people in this world who are going through trials, going through adversity who aren't in the position I am in... and so I thought, I need to use this to help those people get inspired that when they do face adversity, there is joy to be found."
In 2016, he began working on a website to help tell his story. Over the last year, he's had speaking engagements in New Zealand and Australia, throughout the Cardston area, in Lethbridge and in Saskatchewan. His next one will be in Wetaskiwin in October.
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