A devastating fire covered Prince’s body in third-degree burns and took both his arms. After a gruelling recovery and two years of rehabilitation at Sunnybrook, Prince has returned to the stage.
In November of 2012, flames engulfed Prince’s apartment. The fire was devastating. Prince was left with burns to over 68% of his body, damage to his lungs, and the loss of both his arms. Prince doesn’t remember much of the accident, but his friend and roommate, Tosiek, has vivid memories of pulling him out of the blaze:
“Prince had dragged himself to the top of the stairs. His legs were on fire, and he was stuck on a beam. It was like a nightmare we couldn’t wake up from.”
I didn’t want to see them looking at me like I wasn’t going to make it.
Prince suffered burns to 68% of his body
Prince was taken to the Ross Tilley Burn Centre at Sunnybrook where a team of surgeons, nurses, physiatrists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, respiratory therapists, speech language pathologists, dietitians, pharmacists, and social workers cared for him throughout his long recovery.
At first, recovery seemed unimaginable. The severity of Prince’s injuries was staggering. His doctors placed him in an induced coma for three weeks and made no promises to his family and friends that he would live. But this gave his team no pause – they immediately began forming a plan that would lead to 40 surgeries and two years of rehab.
Forty surgeries and two years of rehab
They began with his arms. His sister, at the time his only family in Canada, consented to the amputation of both limbs; one below the shoulder and one below the elbow. Then, skin from his back and thighs was grafted to reconstruct his arms, torso, cheeks, lips and scalp.
Prince woke up three weeks later, but it took him some time to process what had happened.
“I kept asking for a pen and paper. I never really took in what they were saying [about his injuries]. I was trying to maintain a cloud of positivity,” Prince says. “One day, I was strong enough to lift my head. A shiver went through my body. I wondered where my hands had gone. Where did they go? They took part of me. There was definitely some grieving.”
On the road to recovery
Prince began to recover and began the lengthy rehabilitation process. He spent the next nine months of his life in St. John’s Rehab at Sunnybrook. The doctors and nurses he saw every day became like a second family to him. In addition to joking and chatting to keep his spirits up, they provided the critical care and treatment Prince needed to recover.
“I didn’t want to see them looking at me like I wasn’t going to make it. I needed someone to look at me like I was still the same, still human.”
The burns to his body and lifesaving skin grafts limited the range of motion in his shoulder, which could make using a prosthesis and living an independent life impossible. So he participated in therapy seven days a week doing strength training and regaining balance. Prince spent hours doing squats, lunges, walking on a treadmill, using a stationary bike, and using a Bosu ball. He began to regain independence.
“I figured out how to hold my toothbrush between the end of my stumps when I finally achieved enough range of motion. I place the toothpaste between my knees and twist the lid off with my stumps and squeeze it out. I fortunately have enough control, strength, and range to do this thanks to all of the exercises I learned from therapy.”
Finding his place on stage
Next, Prince was fitted with a myoelectric prosthetic on his left arm (his right arm was too short to be compatible with one). The prosthesis uses signals from the muscles in Prince’s arm to operate a battery-powered hand. After an additional 18 months of rehab and adapting to life as a double amputee, Prince had regained some independence, and was ready to face his next challenge: “After the accident, I had to figure out my place in the world again.”
Before the accident, Prince was at home on the stage, and had many acting roles, including one at the Shaw Festival. Now, after surviving a near-fatal fire and wondering if he would ever walk again, Prince is back on the stage.
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