Valley generosity gives student freedom

Henry has muscular dystrophy, a degenerative muscle disorder that’s been making it harder to get around of late.

Duncan’s Paul Tindall Henry, a 25-year-old Vancouver Island University student, has his whole life ahead of him. That life just got a little easier thanks to a new custom wheelchair and van supplied with the help of family, friends and strangers.

Henry has muscular dystrophy, a degenerative muscle disorder that’s been making it harder to get around of late.

“It’s a slow erosion of what you can and cannot do,” his mom Leslie Tindall explained.

Henry’s condition affects both his arms and legs making movement at times dangerous.

“He can’t walk long distances and he can’t walk up stairs anymore and he can’t walk up a hill or on uneven ground,” Tindall said. “It’s very difficult for him to navigate so it becomes very unsafe. He’s in real danger of falling and hurting himself.”

A strapping young man at six-feet tall, Tindall said her son has done an amazing job at hauling himself around.

“We figured this year he just needed a little bit more help,” she explained.

A wheelchair would give Henry the option to walk or roll depending on his activity. A van would further expand his horizons.

But Tindall and her son soon learned working with the government to get Henry what he needed wouldn’t be easy.

“We really had to fight with the ministry to get Paul accepted,” Tindall explained. “Their rules and regulations are very strict on who qualifies for help.”

She said as long as Henry could take one step on his own he was out of luck in terms of provincial funding.

“And he needed some extras on the wheelchair that they didn’t want to cover. It was a really interesting battle,” Tindall said. “Our community occupational therapist really helped fight the battle for it. It was a really long process.”

Eventually though, the province agreed to give Henry his chair. As soon as that happened, Tindall learned her own health coverage would also cover 99 per cent of it.

So in the end, the back and forth with the ministry was for naught, and the private health coverage was used, “which was good because then the ministry’s money could go to somebody else who needed it,” she said.

So with the $30,000 wheelchair secured, the family turned their attention to securing funds for the $60,000 van needed to haul it.

“You’re so dependent on so many other people when you have a disability, but to have that independence to get yourself here and there, I think is really important,” Tindall said.

Family in Australia helped jumpstart the van campaign, sending about half of what was needed.

And then it was Cowichan’s turn.

“The support has been phenomenal,” Tindall said. “People who we’ve never met have come through and have been so generous and so giving of time and what they have. It’s amazing to be on the receiving end of this community and what people can give, little bits or a lot, it all came together, it all added up.”

Together with a number of small events, a wildly popular samosa sale, a line dancing night, a burger and beer event at the Cowichan Bay Pub, a Mr. Mikes burger sale and a Hawaiian themed dance all added funds to the kitty. Silent auctions and raffles and an infusion in the form of Canadian Tire’s chocolate bar sales helped to increase the total.

Muscular Dystrophy Canada also chipped in with a few thousand dollars.

All told, it took five months to outfit Henry with his chair and van.

He aims now to have both his legs and his wheelchair in his transportation toolbox.

“It’s a big load off, just knowing that I can have some breathing room between being able to walk short distances and still being able to move as I can, yet still being able to, if things go bad, have a way to move around again,” he said.

While he drove a car with hand controls before, getting used to the van is taking some time, he admitted with a chuckle.

“I actually love it. It’s amazing,” he said. “There’s a lot of bells and whistles in it.”

The benefit of the van is it can carry the custom wheelchair which will enable him to keep chasing his goals.

While he’s going to school to be a teacher, he knows he can ultimately do whatever he wants with his newfound freedom.

“I’m still open to the idea of what I really want to do,” he said.

As for his mother, she’s still overwhelmed at the generosity of others.

“The fact that Blue Cross came through with the wheelchair was humungous and the fact that the Australian contingent donated part of the money towards the van was huge, too. That really helped us to be able to afford this,” Tindall said. “People really went out of their way. Some people came to all of our events. Some people came to a few. It’s just amazing to be on the receiving end of so many people. It’s wonderful.”