Many of you may not know who David Freeze is, or may have seen him driving around town in his fancy chin controlled wheelchair and wondered about his story.
When the Omineca Express recently questioned Claire Nielsen about who would be an interesting community member to feature in an article, she didn’t hesitate but to recommend David.
David Freeze was a body builder and a man with an active lifestyle before his accident. Freeze is now quadriplegic but he is positive and still active in the community.
He wants his story to inspire people, he wants people to look at how bad he has it and yet how upbeat he stays and how grateful he is to be alive.
David was born on December 29, 1960 in St. John, New Brunswick. The middle child of three step siblings and two full sisters, his childhood was not an easy one.
David’s father was a barber and his mother was a homemaker. Living in the country with no running water, David had to lug five gallon pails of water several times a day from his Aunt’s house. Six children and two parents all shared the three bedroom house.
“It was crowded,” said David Freeze. David lives in the Nechako Manor now by St. Johns Hospital. Pictures crowd the walls of his room, older ones of the shirtless, muscled bodybuilder he once was and new ones of him surrounded by friends and family, in his wheelchair.
The wheelchair is of a special design. David retains the use of his head and shoulders so he manipulates a sensor with his chin that can move the chair any way that he needs.
David moved into St. John when he was 12. He grew up in a rough part of town frequented by roaming gangs, violence and gunshots were a part of everyday existence.
“If you went outside at night, you would see gangs walking around with baseball bats,” said Freeze. “Gangs used to meet and have street fights. People would get injured…”
Dave’s mom died at the age of 32 from lung cancer. She smoked a lot and when she died, David was only 14 years old. This left the kids on their own.
“Our dad took the death of our mom really hard and withdrew from the family,” said Freeze. We didn’t see him too much after that and had to take care of ourselves. I had to learn to fight to survive.”
Dave often was in trouble when at school. He never started the fights but he was constantly picked on until he got tough enough to defend himself. There were a couple of bullies in the neighbourhood who would force Freeze to choose which side of the face he wanted beaten.
He also got into trouble with the cops and outran them in stolen cars until the day he was caught and sent to a reform school. At the reform school, Freeze had to act tough when inside he was terrified.
Freeze was physically abused by guards for the simple act of sneaking desert. The cook there found amusement in throwing cleavers at the boys just to see how close he could get.
“This was the longest six months of my life,” said Freeze. “But I got tough, mean and bitter.”
After Freeze finally got out of the home he went got heavy into body building and working out.
Fast-forward several years to when Freeze is 39. He moved to Kelowna, following his younger sister, and was a supervisor at a car wash, a house mover and eventually working in bush logging.
He came to Vanderhoof in 1999 and worked at Vanderhoof Specialty Wood Products on the line.
“Life was pretty quiet. I liked Vanderhoof and being near my sister and her family.”
Then in 2002, Freeze was in a terrible vehicle accident.
He had convinced his older sister Beth to move to Vanderhoof with her boy so they could get a place together. Beth arrived in Vanderhoof to find out that her brother was in critical condition.
Freeze had helped a friend move house on Blackwater Road. On his way back up the road he was in a hurry and passed his friend then started speeding up.
“I was probably going about 80 km/h on the dirt road and hit a dip where the ground had settled over a culvert. The truck bounced, slid sideways, flipped and landed back on its wheels with the roof caved in. I was wearing a seat belt but the caved in roof broke my neck.
“I was conscious but noticed that my chin was laying on my chest. I could hardly breathe and could only see that both doors were wide open and all the dust was filtering through the sun. It was deathly quiet. I had no pain but knew I was in big trouble.
“It was a short time later that my friend caught up with me. She came to the car in a panic and I asked her to hold my head up because I couldn’t breathe. That is when I passed out and have no further memories until I woke up in the hospital in Vancouver.
“My new life began as a quadriplegic.”
In Vancouver, Freeze was outfitted with a ‘halo’, a metal brace to keep his head stationary, and was forced to remain completely immobile.
All he could do was blink yes or no, he was fully aware of where he was and why he was there. A full memory of an accident like that is rare according to doctors, but Freeze was scared and that was before the pain began.
His sister, Karen, lived in Vanderhoof and tried to get to Vancouver to visit him as often as she could while still raising her children. Freeze had to eat through tubes and hallucinated a lot from the drugs.
Freeze said that this was one of his blackest moments, the pain and the hallucinations brought on dark thoughts and a dark mindset. He remained on pain medication for six to eight years until he decided to take himself off. He still battles the pain and the hurdles resulting from this experience.
Dave didn’t like relying on so many people to do everything he used to be able to do, especially walking. So he set goals for himself during his 15 months of intense physiotherapy, goals like being able to control his own chair and get around by himself.
He spent at least a year being very angry, but under the tutelage of friend Claire Nielsen, Freeze learned to be grateful for what he has.
Nielsen met Freeze when she was visiting the manor and found him at the door, greeting everyone who came in just so he could have as much human interaction as possible.
She worked with Freeze to improve his quality of life inside his mind and out. She taught him how to be grateful rather than angry, how to take the hand he was dealt and turn it into a meaningful message of perseverance and hope.
Now Freeze wants to make sure that people, especially teenagers, take more caution when they’re driving. He invites anyone who hears his story to come visit him if they’re curious or want to know how to get through great tragedy.
“I have learned that life does go on and that no matter what quality of life you have, it is up to you to make the best of it. I have no more anger or bitterness about my situation because I eventually got tired of feeling sorry for myself and knew that things could have always been worse.”
Claire worked with David a few years ago to write his life story and present it to the community youth. David has influenced many youngsters at the highschool in Vanderhoof to be mindful about their choices, especially behind the wheel of a car. “If I can affect one young person, to think before they make a dangerous decision, then I feel there is purpose to my life”.