KITCHENER -- Kitchener's Paul Young was 41 years old when he fell off a roof in May 2019 while on the job, cleaning eavestroughs at a home in Waterloo.

“Paul was alone at the back of the house, he lost his footing and he fell. He smashed his T12 vertebrae and frontal lobe,” said Young’s mother, Lauren Ingersoll.

Young was airlifted to a Hamilton trauma centre, where he stayed in the ICU for 30 days.

“We didn't know what was going to happen, he was on a respirator and developed fluid on his lungs from the lack of movement. It was pretty touch and go for a while there but one wonderful day he woke up and opened his eyes,” Ingersoll said.

After spending nearly two years receiving care at different hospitals and care homes, including Grand River Hospital, he was released for Christmas of 2020.

Ingersoll described his homecoming as, “The best Christmas present I ever had.”

She says the Ministry of Labour investigated the incident, ultimately calling it an accident, believing the sun caught his eye, and he lost his footing.

“In one second your whole life can change and that's what happened to Paul.”

That’s why she wanted to share her son’s story on the anniversary of the Workplace Safety Insurance Board’s (WSIB) Day of Mourning on April 28.

According to the WSIB, 245 people in Ontario died last year as a result of a workplace injury or illness.

WSIB Chair, Elizabeth Witmer, highlighted that for the first time ever, 28 of those deaths were related to COVID-19.

“That's something we really, really have to take serious measures to prevent more lives from being lost,” Witmer said.

The WSIB held a virtual ceremony Wednesday morning and many tributes will be visible in the evening. Yellow has been designated as the colour of hope and healing. The CN Tower, as well as spots in Kitchener, Waterloo and Guelph will be lit up yellow to mark the day.

Before Young’s workplace injury, Ingersoll described her son as being at his best, an avid cyclist and fisherman who enjoyed striking up conversations with strangers.

She described a Mother's Day meal the extended family had just a week before the accident, “We had no idea what was about to happen.”

She said she's thankful she had taken photos of Young with his family members and with his teenage daughter, while he was still at his best.

He is now living in a wheelchair and unable to speak at the strength or volume he once had. Ingersoll says he is relearning how to both walk and talk.

“It's a very slow process. He's doing physio but of course with Covid a lot of things have been cancelled. He needs surgery on his eye, he needs surgery on his hand and those things are all on hold.”

She described his rehabilitation as a slow process.

“He gets depressed. He gets frustrated.”

But, Ingersoll does feels lucky that Paul survived.

She says she quit her job in eastern Ontario, sold her home and moved back to Kitchener to be at her son’s side. She has previous training as a Personal Support Worker and says the WSIB now pays her to be his full time caregiver.

She hopes others realize their safety should not be taken for granted.

“It's been really tough. It's been an emotional and trying two years, but it's not over yet. We're in this for life.”

Witmer is reminding the public that everyone has the right to refuse unsafe work.