On the inside of Carlos Bastarrachea’s right forearm is a tattoo of an airplane orbiting a globe marked December 6, 2020, the date he and his wife Emilia Ballester arrived to begin their new life in Toronto. She has the same one, meant to look like a passport stamp.
“We were lucky and brave enough to just get out of Mexico and try something different, you know, chasing a dream,” Bastarrachea said.
Just a year and a half into their new life in Canada, the 32-year-old now faces a challenge they never dreamed of: learning to live without a left leg.
Bastarrachea was one of two people hit by an alleged disabled driver in downtown Toronto on Canada Day. The other man who was hit died, and six others were injured. While Bastarrachea survived, his leg was so badly injured that it had to be amputated.
As Bastarrachea prepares to leave the hospital on Friday, the couple prepares to adjust to their life in Canada in a very different way.
Bastarrachea and Ballester were downtown on Canada Day, hoping there would be a fireworks display near the CN Tower. After realizing that wasn’t the case, they ate at a restaurant near Front Street and University Avenue.
The accident happened as they were walking back to their apartment at around 11:30 PM, heading north on University Avenue near Wellington Street.
“We get there and we have the red pedestrian light, so we wait our turn,” said Bastarrachea.
“When the [pedestrian] light on green, we start to cross. And I just hear this car coming at full speed.”
Bastarrachea said he saw a car hit two other cars and then he started turning towards them
“It just went so fast,” he said.
“I fall to the floor and immediately I feel this amazing stinging, burning sensation on my leg as I lay down in a plank position.”
Bastarrachea was rushed to hospital in an ambulance, but not before catching a glimpse of his leg.
“It was completely affected,” Bastarrachea said.
“My foot had turned a little bit, all the way to the other side, and there was just a lot of blood.”
‘I just wanted Carlos to be okay’
Ballester was not hit, but suffered a second-degree hamstring injury when he tried to turn quickly.
She took Bastarrachea to the hospital, where he was sedated. She was told that he needed to be examined and that it would take a few hours. She went home to check on their dog and a few hours later she got an urgent call from the doctor.
“He told me… we will have to amputate his leg because his leg is completely lost, there is no muscle or skin. So I want you to come to the hospital now,” Ballester said.
“But I just wanted Carlos to be okay, have a normal life ASAP instead of trying to fix that leg that might not even be salvageable.”
It’s a decision that Bastarrachea admits wasn’t easy for his wife, but he said he was grateful for it.
What lies ahead for the couple is adjusting his life to their new physical reality, from adapting their apartment to be accessible, until Bastarrachea eventually learns to walk with a prosthesis.
They’ve set up a GoFundMe page to prepare for the financial burden of prosthetics, home modifications and other costs in the future.
“There are ramps, there are elevators, there are a lot of things that will help me with mobility, because while the prosthesis comes, I have to move myself in a wheelchair,” Bastarrachea said.
The couple say this all happened when they really started settling in the city. Bastarrachea said he did well in his job for a company that provides concierge services for travel. He had plans for the summer and hoped to take a beginner’s adult hockey course in the fall.
Ballester, who was educated in dance at Centennial College, got more and more gigs and the pair took root.
“We really felt like we were starting to belong here. As outsiders, we built this little family — our friends, who have been amazing,” Bastarrachea said.
‘This makes us unstoppable’
A 26-year-old driver was arrested and faces multiple charges for the accident, including drink-driving resulting in death and personal injury, and dangerous driving resulting in death and personal injury.
“Plans that we had, short term plans, long term plans… And you say, Why did this take from me? Why me? Why at my age, you know, [as] a 32 year old male, i have a healthy lifestyle. Why is this happening?” said Bastarrachea.
But despite that frustration, the couple remains very positive.
“We were victims of something we had no control over. That won’t bring my leg back. That won’t bring our lives back and it won’t do us any good,” Bastarrachea said.
“But out of this whole situation, a lot of positive things have gained strength and given us light and given us purpose.”
For now, the couple say they are grateful for what they have left.
“Yes — there’s anger, there’s frustration, but there’s a lot to look forward to,” Ballester said.
“Like, we can’t be stopped by this.”
“I can’t help but be thankful to be alive, that Emilia had nothing close to this,” Bastarrachea said.
“You’re here, you’re next to me, and you know, I can still hold her with my hands. I haven’t lost my hands and I still can.’