Now what? Man who lost legs in train accident facing sudden hospital discharge

After losing his legs to a train accident while drunk, Elijah Gunner resolved to turn his life around.

Accident was a wake-up call, but Elijah Gunner reeling after being discharged months early

Elijah Gunner smiles as he sits in his wheelchair outside Health Sciences Centre Sunday. He says he's trying to stay positive. (CBC)

After losing his legs to a train accident while drunk, Elijah Gunner resolved to turn his life around.

But now, suddenly discharged from the hospital months earlier than he'd expected, he doesn't know where he can do that.

"I'm kind of worried about that because, I'll be honest, I kind of fell off the wagon once already," since the accident, Gunner said.

Gunner says he was blackout drunk on Sept. 17 when he went on a walk to get cigarettes. Crossing the tracks at Molson Street and Norwich Avenue, he was struck by a train and dragged 12 metres.

The 20-year-old had one leg amputated above the knee and the other below the knee as a result. 
Elijah Gunner, 20, had one leg amputated above the knee and the other below the knee after the accident. (Submitted)

Gunner said the accident was a wake-up call and he resolved to get sober. But it looks like he'll be returning to the living room of the friend he was staying with before the accident happened, after his unexpected discharge from hospital.

After being told he'd be in hospital for five months, Gunner says he recovered faster than expected. A WHRA spokesperson said they couldn't provide patient information about Gunner detailing why he was released. 

He said he's already relapsed once, and doesn't want to do it again.

Gunner said he only found out on Tuesday he was set to be discharged on Friday. He says he was told his hospital stay would be five months. On Friday afternoon, he got a reprieve when the Health Sciences Centre said he could stay until Monday morning, but Gunner had already resigned himself to getting out.

Elijah Gunner says he's been through a lot, so he'll find a way through this. (CBC)
A friend has offered to take him in, but there are two problems. One is space — he was previously staying in his friend's living room, and says it's a tight fit. It will be worse with his wheelchair. 

"It's going to be a little difficult because, like, space, but at least I'll be able to get in and out at the door," he said. "The bathroom is going to be kind of a pain. Not sure how the bathrooms can work out."

The bigger worry is temptations from his old life. 

Fell off the wagon once, friend tried to stop him

"I am kind of worried about that but, I don't know, as long as I try to stay positive and everything else, I'll be fine," he said.

"But [the friend he's staying with has] been pretty respectful about it, because when I did fall off the wagon he was one of the people I called to go get me something. And yeah, he called me crazy. He's like 'Are you crazy, that stuff took your legs and you want to go get more? What's wrong with you?' And he refused to."

His mother, Shirley Gunner, came to Winnipeg to stay with Elijah after the accident. They were hoping to get an apartment together, but Shirley says she won't qualify for disability in Winnipeg because she just arrived from her home community, Moose Cree First Nation, Ont.

She wonders if they could go back there, where Shirley has support.

Elijah's mom Shirley Gunner says she's worried for her son, and wishes they could get a place together. (CBC)
"That's what I've been trying to work on. That's what I've been trying to tell him, just is, come home with me, never mind Children's Aid," Shirley said. 

But Elijah doesn't want to leave Winnipeg.

"Winnipeg has every single one of my resources," Elijah said. "I've always been OK here ... no matter what. Like, I've lost apartments, been evicted, lost jobs — and I've never been homeless. I've never had trouble with money while I'm here."

Mom staying in shelter 

But Shirley can't get funding to stay in Winnipeg — beyond support from her band to travel to the city to be with Elijah — and he doesn't believe he will get funding for physiotherapy in Ontario.

Shirley says while they wait to try to find an apartment together, she'll likely be staying at Siloam Mission.

She's worried she can't keep an eye on Elijah from the shelter, which is her whole reason for being in the city.

"That's what really worries me. Because … I'll have to run around and look after him and make sure he's OK," she said.

Elijah's social worker found him a place to stay in Selkirk, but that's not an ideal option either.

'Everything's finally starting to hit me'

Getting out of the hospital, Elijah is also realizing how much mobility issues might change his future plans.

"Just trying to get through it all because right now it's just, everything's finally starting to hit me," he said.

Discharged from the hospital months earlier than everyone expected, Elijah Gunner's not sure where to go. (CBC)
"I'll never be able to do any of the things that I wanted to do in the future, except become a social worker. Because my plan was, like, to join the military, do something exciting for a bit, and then settle down, come back and start a group home.

"Now I can't do any of that. Which sucks. And it aggravates me."

Still, focusing on the short term, Elijah hopes to push forward.

"Right now it's just really confusing and difficult," he said, adding he's looking at "another place I can go stay that's a little bit more positive.

"I'm just trying to get ahold of them. But I'm being very stubborn. I don't plan on leaving the city."

'I couldn't get up because I didn't have my legs'

5 years ago
Duration 2:18
The young man who survived being hit and dragged 12 metres under a train in Winnipeg earlier this month is thankful to be alive and blames his addiction for the accident that has cost him both his legs.