Eritrean couple giving back after life-changing accident
June 23, 2019
Happily married for five months and a year away from completing a Civil Engineering degree at the University of Waterloo, Amanuel Zermariam was on top of the world when he decided to use the 2014 end-of-year school break to visit Ethiopia for the first time with his wife and her best friend.
Though his financial resources were stretched to the limit, reuniting with Misgana Teklesenbet who lived in Eritrea was an opportunity that was too hard to resist. They tied the nuptial knot a few months earlier in Sweden after meeting in Rome in 2012.
Zermariam also knew his wife’s best friend, Asmeret Tadesse, very well. She was in Ethiopia on business and invited the couple to spend the Christmas holidays with her.
Early in the morning of January 10, 2015, they were among seven people travelling in a mini-van involved in a single vehicle accident. Tadesse succumbed to her injuries while Zermariam suffered severe spinal chord damage and is a paraplegic.
Teklesenbet, who suffered head injuries and was in a coma for three weeks, recovered.
While not fully clear of what precipitated the accident, Zermariam suspects the driver was unfamiliar with the area and, in trying to negotiate a sharp bend, veered off the road. The vehicle hit a barrier before ending up in a ditch.
He was sitting in the back seat between his wife and their friend.
“We were having a good time after a late dinner,” said Zermariam. “I am not blaming the driver because alcohol wasn’t involved.”
Waking up in hospital nearly six hours after the accident and seeing the damage around him wasn’t pleasant.
“I still had blood all over me and my beautiful wife was lying next to me hooked up to equipment,” he recalled. “I went back to sleep because I thought I was having a really bad dream.”
With no family and friends in Ethiopia to support them, Zermariam is eternally grateful to the owner of the hostel they were staying at who used his money to get the couple transferred to a private hospital before he was flown back to Canada, accompanied by a doctor, a week after the horrific accident.
“This guy really didn’t know us well and he didn’t have to do that,” he said. “But he stepped up when we were in crisis. He is our hero.”
While performing surgery the following day at Toronto Western Hospital, physicians discovered that Zermariam had a cervical neck fracture that wasn’t diagnosed in Ethiopia.
Unable to complete university, he has spent the last four years adjusting to life in a wheelchair while dealing with other health issues. He was an active volunteer with Spinal Chord Injury Ontario and a Toronto Central Local Health Integrated Network (LHIN) Citizen Panel member prior to undergoing bladder surgery at the end of 2016.
“I have slowed down since that surgery because I am in a lot of pain,” he said.
Despite the setback, Zermariam refuses to sit idly by and wallow in self-pity.
With the support of friends, he and Teklesenbet organized a dinner on June 1 at Pero Restaurant & Lounge to raise funds for Eritrea’s disabled community and increase inclusion and accessibility awareness.
“Throughout the past four years, we have been humbled by the generous love and support we have received from families, friends and even strangers,” he said. “It was so heartwarming for us to see the hundreds of visitors who came to the hospital inquiring about us and bringing food and drinks. It revealed the power and impact of having a generous community. Knowing how important this support has been in our journey, we are compelled to give back. We know there are many members of the community suffering from visible and invisible disabilities who are not as privileged to receive such generous support.”
In the past few months, Zermariam has been collecting medical supplies to ship to Eritrea where he was born and raised.
“I am using my home as storage and reaching out to people in the community to donate because there’s a huge need for these things where I come from,” he said. “This is the least I can do for the less fortunate. I can’t just sit in this chair and wait for things to happen to me. I have to do things to uplift people and feel good about myself. That’s what motivates me daily.”
To help with shipping costs to Eritrea, individuals can make donations by going to www.amanandmissy.com.
Born in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, Zermariam spent five years doing compulsory military service in his homeland where he was an Air Traffic Controller before heading to neighbouring Sudan.
“Most of the young men in my age group were leaving the country back then and I decided to do the same,” he noted.
After 18 months in Sudan, Zermariam came to Canada in 2007.
“I wasted no time in enrolling in school here and things were amazing for me,” he said.
That was until that tragic night four years ago that changed his life.