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Lives Lived

Alex Whatley Add to ...

Alex was born on a hot August day. Although he was a full-term baby and the pregnancy had progressed without complications, something seemed different when he came into the world. His parents, Don and Natalie Whatley, would soon learn that Alex, their second child, was severely disabled.

Alex had no known syndrome, so it was difficult to know what that meant for his future. Despite being told that he would likely never walk or talk, Don and Natalie sought every opportunity for Alex - and worked to create new ones whenever possible.

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It soon became apparent that Alex was a determined little boy: If he was interested in something, he pursued it relentlessly. Countless teachers, therapists and support workers fed off his enthusiasm, and he in turn fed off their love and support. By the time he was a teenager, Alex - who could win anyone over with his blond hair, blue eyes and mischievous grin - could read, play simple songs on the piano, sing with perfect pitch, swim and run.

And oh, could he run. Neighbours would help give chase in Alex's younger years when they saw him running down the street toward the busy intersection at the end of the court. Alex, running just because he could, was unaware of road safety. Once, he slipped away from his day camp program and was found safe - albeit in the middle of a busy intersection - after a frantic search. One of our favourite pictures is of Alex running down Grace Bay beach in the Turks and Caicos Islands, a favourite family vacation spot. He has sand in his hair and a smile on his face; it's a moment of pure, innocent joy.

Alex loved the warm water and miles of beaches in the Turks and Caicos. Years of swimming lessons with caring instructors helped him gain confidence in the water, and he would spend hours both on vacation and at home swimming. Everyone at the local pool came to know and love Alex.

This was true in his neighbourhood, too. Every day, Don would take Alex for a bike ride. Father and son would ride around the local streets, and people from all over would recognize the pair. Whether they knew them or not, folks would honk their horns or wave as they passed in their cars.

As Alex got older, physical activity became increasingly difficult. If any distance was involved, he was confined to a wheelchair. Sadly, Alex died of complications from spinal surgery meant to help his mobility. Yet, even in his passing, he brought people together: Alex donated his organs and compatible recipients were found for his kidneys, liver and heart valves. He potentially saved three lives in his short life - and touched hundreds more.

Jennifer Cartwright is Alex's sister.

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