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Building blocks: how LEGO helped a B.C. man recapture life after induced coma

Langford’s Carl White owns about 350 sets with an estimated worth of $30,000
Langford’s Carl White picked up LEGO again in 2018 following a severe case of pneumonia that led to him having to be put into an induced coma for 10 days. Since then, his collection has grown to more than 350 sets, with an estimated worth of $30,000. (Photo by Tim Collins)

LEGO has made a lasting impression on the world, as well as on the bare feet of countless parents who have trodden, barefoot, on their child’s LEGO bricks in the middle of the night.

One recent estimate, cited by the BBC, reported that there some 75 billion and that a quick calculation of the estimated number of LEGO bricks in existence means that there are currently 86 bricks out there for every man, woman and child on the planet.

In an age where most kids are playing video games or creating content online, LEGO is still loved and is only growing in popularity. After more than 80 years, the makers of these little bricks have surpassed Mattel as the biggest toy company in the world.

But for Carl White,, a resident of the Victoria suburb of Langford, none of that really matters. The fact is that LEGO helped White in a very personal way, and along the way the small pieces have become an enduring part of his life.

It all started in April of 2018 when White was experiencing breathing problems and was taken into the hospital emergency ward.

“It turns out that I was suffering from a severe form of pneumonia, and I had one lung that had collapsed, and the other was half-full of fluid. I was in bad shape,” White says.

Things went from bad to worse when White’s condition deteriorated, and his heart stopped.

“I was gone for seven and a half minutes and then, when they got me back, they had to put me in an induced coma,” he says. “I was in a coma for 10 days and when I finally woke up, I couldn’t move from the waist down, couldn’t feel my fingertips … I was in rough shape.”

What followed were months of rehabilitation and therapy before White was finally discharged and allowed to go home. But his manual dexterity was still lacking, and his doctors suggested that he try doing puzzles or anything that would help to reactivate the nerves and improve the use of his hands.

“I had always loved LEGO when I was a kid. It was always there as a background sort of thing. So, I got out some LEGO and started putting it together and it helped.”

That “LEGO therapy” worked wonders and White was able to recapture the use of his fingers but found that, while renewing that ability, he was also redeveloping his love of creating with LEGO.

“It started out as therapy, but it’s sort of become an obsession now. But don’t get me wrong, it’s therapy as well. It helps with eye-hand coordination, there’s mental acuity in creating what you make … and it’s enjoyable as well.”

Bins of LEGO are placed around his house and White is always on the lookout for his next acquisition . (Photo by Tim Collins)

And White isn’t alone in his love of the interlocking brick system.

On Vancouver Island there are at least two LEGO clubs, VicLUG and Brick Lug, who put on regular shows and host websites where LEGO enthusiasts can meet and exchange thoughts and ideas for their next creations.

“I belong to both groups now and recently went to a show in Calgary where there were just some amazing creations. Through VicLUG I’ve met some interesting people as well,” White says. “There’s this one woman who makes portraits in LEGO, for example.”

White now estimates his own LEGO collection at about 350 sets, ranging from very simple beginner sets to a set valued at about $1,200. Bins of LEGO are in places around his house and White is always on the lookout for his next acquisition.

“I probably have about $30,000 worth of LEGO right now,” he said.

The creative aspect of LEGO has also been useful in White’s other interests. He has, for years, fabricated custom auto parts and he now uses LEGO to experiment in custom designs.

“I recently built a dump trailer for a customer, and I used LEGO to build it first to test the concept. It worked, so I built it in real life.”

Still, regardless of whether it’s viewed as therapeutic or simply a hobby, there’s no doubt that White considers the little interlocking bricks as an important feature of his life.

“I still work on cars, and I love riding my motorcycle, but I love the creative outlet that LEGO gives me. Some people create stuff out of wood or clay. Others paint. I do LEGO, and there’s an artistry in that too.”

READ MORE: Sidney’s Old Post Office immortalized by LEGO