An Initiative in Memory of Lewis Wheelan (1981 - 2003)
Lewis was born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, ON. He was not only an outdoorsman with a passion for hiking, canoeing, hunting and fishing but also an exceptional
athlete. He loved playing hockey and soccer but his personal favourite was football. At six feet, 200 pounds, he had the size and ability to do all of these
In May 2001, Lewis had just finished his
first year at Sir Wilfred Laurier University and was looking forward to a job that allowed him to
work outdoors. He had accepted a summer job as a general labourer for a contractor clearing brush under electrical distribution lines.
On his second day of work, Lewis' co-worker cut a tree that caused a power line to fall; shocking Lewis with 7,200 volts of electricity three times. This resulted
in Lewis having 65% of his body damaged by burns and three amputations including his legs, right arm and shoulder, placing him in a wheelchair. As a result of the
many skin grafts, his body needed air-conditioning because he was unable to control his body temperature.
Lewis went through months of physical and emotional agony but eventually came to accept his altered life and new body. After recovering from critical care and
overcoming extensive rehabilitation, Lewis moved into his own apartment in Southern Ontario less than a year after his injuries.
Lewis' determination to move forward with his life was a direct result of him overcoming what he thought would be the worst that life could throw at him.
Unfortunately for Lewis, on August 14, 2003, Ontario experienced one of the largest blackouts in North America's history. The power was out for
22 hours in the Southern Ontario area where Lewis lived, which
meant no air-conditioning. Lewis could not live without air-conditioning. Outside temperatures exceeded 32 degrees and his West-facing apartment would have been
even hotter. His portable phones were useless in a power outage, his family was later to learn. He had endured smaller outages before and the power would always
come back on within a few hours - this time it didn't.
His personal care worker left for the day and didn't check back until 2:30 p.m. the next day. His family tried frantically to reach him by phone, but no one
locally checked on him.
Lewis died sometime early in the morning of August 15, 2003, before the power was restored to his building, at the age of 21.
A Message from the Wheelan Family
Dear residents of Sault Ste. Marie,
This initiative did not exist in 2003 to help Lewis, but it could help you. It exists today because people care and it is an initiative that is long past due.
Much like anyone else, Lewis did not want to view himself as vulnerable; the reality is we will all be vulnerable at one point or another in our lives. The VPR is not
meant to label you as vulnerable, it is simply adding to your independence by increasing your safety while living within your own home.
In today's world, we become used to the daily luxuries we have available to us - one of which is electricity. Our lives are so busy that we focus on our daily routines
and future plans - it is not until we are without something that we realize we are not prepared.
The VPR will not only be an added safety measure, but will also help educate you on how to be prepared for such situations. We hope Lewis' story will encourage you to
become informed and take charge of your safety or the safety of someone you care about.
The Wheelan Family