In September of 2010, Omar was travelling with a friend in Northern Iraq. On one particularly hot day, he decided to go for a swim. He dove into the water, hit a rock, and broke his neck at the C5 vertebrae (new window).
“I was like, my life was totally over,” he explains. “I jumped motorcycles, I went to the gym every day, I was just a very active person, and all that just stopped.”
After the accident, Omar fell into a depression that lasted for five years.
“I never got out, never met with people, I just decided to be inside — absolutely inside. I didn’t want anything for five years.”
In addition to the accident, Omar lived in fear on a daily basis. Many of his friends and family in Iraq were being kidnapped and killed.
“I was in Iraq. I lived in war, it was dangerous. Without mentioning the accident, life was not easy. I was afraid my brother would get kidnapped,” he says.
In October of 2015, Omar and his family immigrated to Canada. But he didn’t truly start living his life again until he checked in to the GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre (new window) three weeks after he had landed in Canada.
At first he was resistant to their equipment and power wheelchair — he didn’t want to use it. But soon, he had an epiphany.
“[This is a] way to start again, there’s so many resources to feel alive again,” he says. “Then I was like, ‘I want to live.’”
And before long, he found a new passion — painting. He had signed up for an art class where he learned that he could do it.
“I always loved art,” he explains. “I never dared to try it. Years ago, I signed up for art school, but then I got my accident.
“After a while, I thought there was no way physically [. . .] to do painting before I went to GF Strong.”
It came naturally to Omar.
“That was the first time I tried painting all my life,” he explains. “I found out I really like it.”
Omar now lives on his own, though still close to his family. It’s an independence he could only dream of before.
“I want independence,” he notes. “I live on my own. That was the dream, that was like a job for me.”
When Makers Making Change (new window) called Omar to see if he wanted to test out the LipSync, he said yes. Initially, he saw it as helping them with their research — something he never declines, as he wants to make a difference — rather than the impact it could have on his own life.
But as soon as he tried it, he felt an immediate connection.
“[It’s] so easy to use,” he says.
“It felt very natural,” Omar explains, saying the movement of the mouthpiece and the sip and puff controls were easy to understand. “If I wanted to design something, it’d be exactly like this.”
Now, he’s using it to pursue his dreams, saying the LipSync is “absolutely” life changing. Having applied to a Communication design (new window) program at BCIT (new window) and Emily Carr University (new window), he needed to take a Business English course at BCIT to upgrade his English.
For his exam, he brought his LipSync.
“I’m a quadriplegic, and I did an exam [by] myself,” he explains. “Usually, in my case, there’s a scriber or someone assisting me. For me, I did it on my own with this device.”
He didn’t just pass the course either. He excelled.