As a firefighter, Tim Casarin has raced to a lot of emergencies, focused on saving lives. But until he was caught in an explosion, the 46-year-old admits he had no idea of what happens to people after the crisis ends. Many surgeries and care at West Park have changed all of that.
Casarin was responding to a Mississauga warehouse fire in April, 2014. A sudden explosion knocked down a wall and sent clouds of thick black smoke into the air. Four firefighters were injured in the blast. Casarin spent almost a month in acute care until he was ready for rehab.
He arrived at West Park unable to walk, with a cervical collar, wired jaws, and other apparatus.
"I was really scared," he says, from his home in Rockwood. "I had never been in hospital before, never had a broken bone before. I had no clue where I was going, as far as recovery and what my final result would be."
"More than 90 per cent of our trauma patients feel that way," says Janet Mulgrave, Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation Services manager.
Those patients come from acute care where people are dealing with life and death situations. It can seem very busy with not a lot of time for interactions with patients, Mulgrave says.
"When they come here it’s a little bit more relaxing. It’s good for them mentally, physically, psychologically. But it’s also the interdisciplinary team and the caring that is demonstrated. We try to live up to our core values."
From the first hello, Casarin remembers the reassurance he got from everyone at West Park, that what he was going through was normal.
"They made me feel like I was doing a great job and if I had a bad day, they made me feel like it was OK."
He was struck by how many factors go into getting better, how many people are involved in the recovery and how many individual steps it takes to get back to living a life.
"I almost feel like I am back to where I was before," Casarin says. "I’m sitting here right now in zero pain. I can walk, talk, move my limbs and breathe."
West Park, he says, has become a big part of his life. "This big, tough firefighter who was scared and vulnerable...What they did for me…." his voice trails, caught in the emotion of the memory.
The recognition is appreciated but Mulgrave says it’s all part of the job. "That’s our business – trauma."
In April of 2015, Casarin returned to active duty. Colleagues hugged him and called him “Miracle Man.” But seven months later, he required surgery on his right leg to relieve lingering pain in the limb. Again Casarin persevered and, after taking more than a year to recover, he returned to the fire hall on Dec. 5, 2016. This time, he believes, for good.