07/16/2012 03:10 EDT | Updated 09/15/2012 05:12 EDT

Gander man paralyzed, loses job due to softball injury

A Gander man is struggling with paralysis, town officials, Newfoundland and Labrador's health care system and loss of employment after he was seriously injured on a municipal field while playing softball.

Tom Whalen, 35, was playing with his senior league team on June 19 when a ground ball bounced off a rock on the field and hit him square in the forehead.

As a result of the blow, Whalen suffered a severe concussion, and has lost the use of his legs.

Whalen said the ball field has an infield made of crushed stone, but large rocks in the mix have caused previous injuries.

He said he and others in his softball league had been asking town officials to fix the condition of the ball field for years, and now he's concerned that someone else could end up in worse shape than him.

"I mean, we have hundreds of kids playing on those fields every day. And one of these kids is going to be killed because of the field conditions," worried Whalen. "Nobody wants that, and I'm sure the town doesn't want that."

Whalen has been investigating to see whether the Town of Gander's insurance company can help him out, and he's started a petition to lobby the town for a better ball field.

MRI access adding to Whalen's problem

Whalen has been confined to a wheelchair since his injury, and doctors have been trying to determine whether his paralysis will be permanent.

Whalen said his neurologist wants him to get an MRI as part of the investigation into his injury, but Whalen said at about six feet tall and 275 pounds, he's too big to fit into any of province's MRI machines.

"There's people that's a lot bigger than me and all the machines in Newfoundland, the MRI machines, are the same size," said Whalen.

Whalen said he would be able to fit into an MRI machine in Ontario and see a doctor in that province who specializes in concussion injuries, but so far, he hasn't been able to determine whether MCP, the province's medical insurance plan, can cover the costs.

Employer laid Whalen off after injury

Whalen added he wouldn't be able to afford to pay for travel costs and medical care in Ontario out of his own pocket, because since his injury, he has lost his job doing inspection and repair work for a window and door company.

"The fact that I have no job no more and income and stuff is gone, it adds a lot to the whole situation," observed Whalen.

"I can't turn back the clock, but my biggest drive here now for getting things done is the kids and the rest of the adults here in Gander who are using these fields."

Official from the town of Gander said they will not be able to comment on Whalen's situation until after the town's recreation committee meets on July 23.