“The Mounties were surprised I had survived and even I was surprised too,” said Jay Cousins, 36. “When you see the truck you don’t think anyone could possibly have gotten out of it.”
Cousins credits the love that poured in for him from across Canada during his recovery as the rock that helped him through the ordeal.
“To see the cards coming in while coming back from an injury, it empowers you,” he said. “You don’t even think that many people could love you that much. There was so much love, I can’t thank everyone enough for what they’ve done for me and my life.”
Cousins was seriously injured in a single-vehicle accident in Bethune, Sask., on July 7 while travelling from Cape Breton to Red Deer, Alta., to start a new life on a pipefitting project.
He was taken to the Regina General Hospital after suffering multiple injuries, including a broken neck.
Cousins said he remembers “every second” of the accident.
It was his fourth day driving across Canada. He hadn’t been on the road long and he believes he lowered his head briefly to change the radio station, when a wheel of his truck hit the gravel.
“As soon as I felt the gravel under the floor I panicked; it made me jerk the wheel left. Where the back of the actual truck was full to the top, the weight just took me,” he said.
Cousins believes the truck probably rolled at least four times. He somehow slipped out of his seatbelt.
“I kind of had an intuition to duck as I knew I wasn’t getting out otherwise and the truck blew me right out of the window onto the gravel.”
He then remembers hearing a voice and seeing a man, who he later learned was a priest.
“The man said: ‘Do you want me to call your parents?’”
Cousins said” “’Yes, please,’ adding, “’Could you tell them I love them as well?’”
As the priest was making the call, Cousins recalls hearing, “your son has been in an accident” and “he’s not in the best of shape.”
A nurse travelling behind him held his head. He was in and out of conciousness, but remembers a helicopter.
“The next thing I knew, I woke up and saw my parents walking into my hospital room.”
A tough six months followed. His father Melvin, 67, who’s on Canada Pension, and his mother Jean, 62, who receives a disability pension, never left his side.
“I felt such remorse, even thought it wasn’t my fault, I felt bad that I did that to my parents. What really kept me going was wanting to get my family home.”
The first two months in the Regina Hospital was mostly spent in boredom. Cousins was in a neck brace and a spine/back brace and couldn’t move, his right hand was “cupped over” and he couldn’t open it.
He didn’t even have a television.
“It was too expensive — $99 a month — so I did without for a couple of months.”
A month later, a trach tube was put into his throat for three months to assist with his breathing.
He said it was tough emotionally, but he was determined. He was later transferred to the QE 11 hospital in Halifax and also attended the rehabilitation centre there.
“If you’re determined to get back as far as you can physically, you will. I had that all the way through.”
Now back home for a few months, he can move several fingers on both hands and works to keep improving. His life may be on different path but his goals are unchanged.
It wasn’t the big dollars in pipefitting luring him out West, his ultimate goal was to get into radio.
Cousins had taken the two-year radio, television arts graduate program at the Nova Scotia Community College in Dartmouth and hoped to juggle between the two jobs.
“I would have eventually settled for broadcasting over the money because that’s where my passion is.”
He had worked two months for The Coast Radio in Glace Bay on an internship and then was hired for two months until school started up again.
“It was surreal getting paid for doing something you love. Morning radio is awesome, you feel like you’re waking up the community. I love music and interacting with people, I think it would be great to have a job where you give back to the place you live in and love.”
His passion for guitar has him hoping to play again someday, but a recent video of a German man with no hands playing the piano has inspired him.
“I have a piano in the basement, I hope to get it upstairs here.”
Cousins’s mother, Jean, said her heart still breaks to see my son this way.
‘I’d give him my legs if I could.”
Jean said her son still has a challenging road ahead but knows his determination will see him reach his goals.
“He’s a great kid,” she said. “I love him so much.”
Jean’s voice breaks with emotion, while expressing gratitude to the public.
“Letters, cards and donations came from across the country. People would write and say prayers. It was so amazing, all I could do is cry,” she said. “It helped so much.”
The family is still dealing with heartbreak that occurred only months before their son’s accident. Their daughter Starlette Cousins-Thomas, 44, died of Crohn's disease in February 2015.
“I think of Star every single day,” she added.
Laurie Carrigan, of Scotchtown, a close friend, said Jean and Melvin had given their son their only vehicle — a Toyota Rav 4X4 — to take out West with him.
“They can’t even take Jay out for a drive somewhere because they don’t have a vehicle let alone a wheelchair accessible one,” she said sadly.
“They use the handi-trans when they need to take him somewhere. “
She said the family received an accessible grant to make some alterations to their house. She said $18,000 was raised through an online fundraiser.
“That money is what helped keep Jay’s parents by his side every step of the way and they are so appreciative,” she said.
The funds also helped purchase a $8,000 wheelchair and a $1,500 shower accessible chair.
“They are trying to survive on pensions and it’s not easy.”
The Mayflower Dental Group in Sydney even came on board.
Carrigan said the dental centre had a contest to do three smile makeovers, but after receiving a flood of emails regarding Cousins’s teeth breaking in the accident, they upped the contest.
“So many people wrote in about Jay, they included him as a fourth person (in the contest) and we’re grateful.”
• Jay Cousins, 36, of Scotchtown
• Son of Jean and Melvin Cousins.
• Received his bachelor of arts at Cape Breton University and is a graduate of the radio, television arts graduate program at the Nova Scotia Community College in Dartmouth.
• Having a deep passion for music, he sang and learned trumpet at a young age and is self-taught on the guitar.
•Performed in the past at the Rack & Roll Billiards and the former Room with a Cue, both in New Waterford.