WHITMAN — Not long ago, if you had asked Donnie Westhaver of Whitman what he would be doing in two years, driving a motorcycle would probably not be what you would have expected to hear.
Westhaver has been confined to a wheelchair after suffering devastating complications from spinal fusion surgery just two years ago. He now lives as a quadriplegic only recently gaining hand and arm strength with braces and grueling, twice weekly physical therapy.
Living in a wheelchair and the life altering circumstances does not define him, however. He has made his life mission and purpose about serving and helping others.
He admits that he struggles with having to rely on helpers to transport him to appointments although he has a handicap assessable van he is unable to operate it independently, yet. One day he hopes to have the arm strength to operate independently. For now he gratefully relies on friends and family to take him out, he said.
Recently he began researching the Marine Mobility Conquest Trike, a handicapped assessable customizable trike that allows a wheel chair to fit compatibly and stably on a platform inside a motorized compartment. It was a limited product no longer being manufactured and Westhaver thought the chances were slim that he would cross paths with the bike.
But, as fate would have it, he received a call from his cousin in Texas who had seen the exact trike on EBAY. They tracked it down made a bid and the rest is history.
He has received encouragement from his family to gain some independence and a sense of freedom again.
The last few years have been emotional after losing his wife Susan from lung cancer. They were married for over 40 years. Having so many changes in a short period of time has not been easy, he said.
He sold his trailer and boat to free up funds for the trike.
“My family agreed that it was best to sell them now in order to be able to use something that would give me mobility to get around,” said Westhaver.
His attitude is infectious and giving back to the community re-energizes him. He has co-organized the Whitman Area Toy Drive for over a decade providing hundreds of families in need with toys, gift cards and food during the holiday. He also served as president of the VFW men’s auxiliary and is a past commander of the Whitman Sons of the American Legion. He helps and stays involved with other groups as well. He is the retired superintendent of the Whitman DPW, and a founder of Whitman Wheels for disabled Veterans and Citizens which provides medical mobility equipment to those that cannot afford the items due to lack of insurance or monetary reasons.
When the trike arrived it was comparable to Christmas morning.
The most incredible part of the mobility trike when it arrived was the 3-D artwork from front to back, he said.
“Seeing the photos online really did not do it justice,” said Westhaver.
As he poured over the artwork he wondered more about the drawings and what they meant. He reached out to the artist John Steven St. Clair of Florida the former owner of Metal Mafia Custom Painting in Orlando. He spoke several times with Westhaver explaining why the photos depicted on the moving mural meant so much to his customer and friend Mike. (Since the Express could not reach out to his family they are identifying him only by his first name.)
St. Clair relayed the stories of each piece of art to Westhaver. One of the most impressionable sections of the trike is a row of four faces all Mike’s fallen military comrades — tributes to Pfc. Jay S. Cajimat, Sgt. Andrew R. Looney, Cpl. Durrell Bennett and Sgt. William Wayne Crow whose deaths were all related to their services oversees following 9-11 said St. Clair as he was told.
Westhaver has poured over the surface, which are emblazoned with emotional depictions undoubtedly a mix of memories and nightmares as Mike suffered from severe PTSD and took his own life several years ago.
On the day he spoke with the Express, Westhaver’s registration plate arrived via Gail Varraso of O’Rourke’s Insurance in Whitman. She was as happy as Westhaver who beamed from ear to ear as he held the numbered tag that would allow him a taste of the open road riding Mike’s trike. The freedom allotted to Westhaver has somehow been restored even in the smallest of amounts as he prepares to drive again.