The Sault’s Kelley Westlake is one tough, resilient Canadian veteran.
Though never in combat, she has soldiered on in the face of amputation and cancer.
She was released from the military for medical reasons after her right foot was amputated in 2002.
“I was on a field exercise and I accidentally dropped a 100 pound propane tank on my foot,” Kelley told SooToday.
Undergoing two surgeries for the injury, a third surgery led to amputation of her right foot.
“There was nothing they could do to save my foot. The last surgery I had, they pretty much poured the bone out of my foot.”
“When they amputated my foot, I looked at it as something new in my life. I didn’t miss it because I was in such chronic pain all the time, I was happy it was gone,” Kelley said.
Quick to walk again (six weeks after amputation), Kelley’s suffering still wasn’t over, having to undergo subsequent surgery on her back, right hand and gall bladder before being struck by breast cancer (she is still taking her cancer treatment medication).
A second amputation took place for Kelley in September 2018, her breast cancer having caused a deadening of the nerves in her right leg, forcing doctors to amputate her right leg up to the knee.
“I look at it as one of those things in life. You get up every day and just go ahead. I try to inspire people,” Kelley said.
“I get a lot of strength from family and friends. I think if you invert it on yourself, it becomes doom and gloom.”
Her efforts to inspire people have indeed paid off.
“She inspires me...she’s my biggest inspiration,” said Kelley’s sister Penny Westlake.
“There’s nothing worth complaining about after seeing what Kelley goes through on a daily basis.”
Kelley, a Cornwall, Ontario native, moved to the Sault in 1978, joined the Canadian Army at age 17 in 1980 and returned to the Sault in 2003 to spend some quality time with her ailing father.
She served in a support role as a cook for the military, having also served on three different Royal Canadian Navy ships during her career.
Driven to transform her prosthetic limb from a gloomy burden into something pleasant to behold, Kelley approached Sault artist and family friend Dave Ostrowski-Gallant to apply his talents.
Images which Dave airbrushed on to Kelley’s prosthetic limb include one of her cat Charlie (“the love of my life,” she said), two of HMCS Cormorant (one of the navy ships on which she served) and a veteran’s poppy.
“He was able to capture exactly what I wanted. That’s my tattoo,” Kelley smiled.
Dave moved to the Sault with his wife from southern Ontario in 2000, originally employed as an electrician with Tenaris Tubes and Brookfield Power before becoming a full time artist, running his own business, Doghouse Custom Paint and Airbrush.
His artistic work on Kelley’s limb took five days to complete, pulling inspiration from sketches, photos and stories she provided him with.
“90 per cent of the stuff I do is motorbikes and helmets. I do a lot of guitars, but my motto is ‘I’ll paint anything on anything,’ and when Kelley approached me to do this I said yes, I was honoured to, I was blown away. I can’t describe how honoured I was,” Dave said.