CANADA They came to Toronto as a young immigrant couple....

They came to Toronto as a young immigrant couple. The accident changed their lives forever.

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Emilia Ballester (left) with her husband Carlos Bastarrachea (right) outside Providence Healthcare in Scarborough, where he is treated for his amputated left leg. (Farrah Merali/CBC News)

On the inside of Carlos Bastarracea’s right forearm, there is a tattoo of an airplane circling the globe with the date December 6, 2020, when he and his wife Emilia Ballester arrived to start a new life in Toronto. She has the same one, it should look like a stamp in the passport.

“We were lucky and brave enough to just get out of Mexico and try something different, you know, chase a dream,” Bastarracea 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.

Before arriving in Canada, Bastarracea and Ballester got identical tattoos to commemorate their arrival in Canada, where they planned to start a new life. (Contributed by Emilia Ballester)

Bastarracea was one of two people hit by an alleged drunk driver in downtown Toronto on Canada Day. Another downed man died, six more were injured. Although Bastarraheya survived, his leg was so badly damaged that it had to be amputated.

As Bastarracea prepares to leave the hospital on Friday, the couple is preparing to adjust to their life in Canada in a very different way.
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Bastarracea and Ballester were downtown on Canada Day, hoping there would be fireworks outside the CN Tower. Realizing they weren’t, they went to dinner at a restaurant near Front Street and University Avenue.

The accident occurred as they were returning to their apartment heading north along University Avenue near Wellington Street at around 11:30 p.m.

“We get there and we have a pedestrian red light so we wait our turn,” Bastarrachea said.

“When [pedestrian] lights up green, we start the transition. And I just hear this car approaching at full speed.”

Bastarracea said he saw the car crash into two other cars and then start spinning in their direction.

“It happened so fast,” he said.

“I fall to the ground and immediately feel a strong tingling and burning sensation in my leg when I lie in a plank position.”

The accident occurred as the couple were returning to their apartment heading north along University Avenue near Wellington Street around 11:30 p.m. (Mehrdad Nazarahari/CBC News)

Bastarracea was taken to the hospital by ambulance, but not before he could catch a glimpse of his leg.

“He was completely tarnished,” Bastarraheya said.

“My leg was kind of twisted the other way, and there was a lot of blood.”

“I just wanted Carlos to be okay”

Ballester was unharmed, but suffered a second-degree hamstring strain while trying to quickly turn away.

She went to the hospital with Bastarrachaea, where he was sedated. She was told that he needed to be examined and that it would take several 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 it is completely lost, there is no muscle, no skin. So I need you to come to the hospital right now,” Ballester said.

“But I just wanted Carlos to be okay to start a normal life as soon as possible, instead of trying to fix a leg that might not even have been saved.”

Carlos Bastarracea in the hospital after the accident. After hospitalization, his left leg was amputated. (Contributed by Emilia Ballester)

Bastarraheya admits that this decision was not easy for his wife, but he said he was grateful for it.

The couple will have to adapt their lives to their new physical reality, from modifying their apartment to make it affordable to Bastarraheya eventually learning to walk with a prosthesis.

They created a GoFundMe page to help them prepare for the financial burden of prosthetics, modifications to their home, and other expenses in the future.

“There are ramps, there are elevators, there are a lot of things that will help me with mobility, because until the prosthesis comes, I need to move around in a wheelchair,” Bastarracea said.

The couple say that all this happened just when they began to really settle down in the city. Bastarracea said he was doing a good job at a travel concierge company. He had plans for the summer and hoped to take up beginner hockey in the fall.

Ballester, who trained as a dancer at Centennial College, got more and more gigs, and the couple took root.

“We just really felt like we started to belong to this place. As underdogs, we built this little family of our friends who were amazing,” Bastarracea said.

“We can’t be stopped because of this”

The 26-year-old driver was arrested and charged with multiple accident charges, including drunk driving resulting in death and bodily injury, and dangerous driving resulting in death and bodily injury.

“The plans we had, short term plans, long term plans… And you’re like, Why was this taken away from me? Why me? Why at my age, you know [as] 32-year-old guy, lead a healthy lifestyle. Why is this happening?” Bastarraheya said.

Emilia Ballester (left) brings the couple’s dog to visit Carlos Bastarracea (right) while he is undergoing treatment. (Contributed by Emilia Ballester)

But despite this disappointment, the couple remains deeply positive.

“We were victims of something that was beyond our control. It won’t bring my leg back. It won’t give us life back and it won’t do us any good,” Bastarrachea said.

“But because of this whole situation, a lot of positive things have gained strength and given us light and given us purpose.”

For now, the couple says they are grateful for what they still have.

“Yes, there is anger, there is frustration, but there is a lot to look forward to,” Ballester said.

“Like, because of this, we can’t be stopped.

“I can’t help but feel grateful that I’m still alive, that Emilia didn’t have anything even remotely like this,” Bastarraheya said.

“You are here, you are next to me, and, you know, I can still hold her in my arms. I didn’t lose my arms and I can still do it.”

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