Nearly killed by frostbite, Hopedale woman grateful as her life gets back on track

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Nearly killed by frostbite, Hopedale woman grateful as her life gets back on track

A Labrador woman who lost fingers and part of one leg after falling asleep outdoors in sub-zero temperatures is recovering from a horrific experience, thanks to family and friends who pitched in to help. 

In February of last year, Hopedale resident Gerri Boase, 29, fell asleep in a komatik box in front of the community's hydro diesel plant where she was exposed to extreme cold.

She doesn't remember much of what happened.

"I kind of  just remember being down in the hotel playing cards," she said in an interview with CBC Radio's Labrador Morning.

"I can remember having a few beers and I went outside for a cigarette, and then it all blacked out from then."

Allan Vincent, who works at the hydro diesel plant, doesn't know why but he didn't follow his normal route into work that morning. It was very cold — around -40 C, without windchill, he figures.

'No movement, no sound, nothing'

At first, he saw what he thought was a black object in the komatik box. Only after getting closer did he realize it was actually a coat.

"As I got closer, I looked inside and I could tell it was a person lying inside the komatik box … I reached inside and started to shake," he said.

"Not a thing, no movement, no sound, nothing."

Vincent said there was no answer when he first tried calling the RCMP from inside the hydro plant. Next, he called his wife to contact the clinic, to tell them that he'd found a person. Then he went back outside and tried to rouse the person lying in the box in a fetal position. 

"I shook a bit, and then nothing, and then just getting ready to stop, I look down and I could see her arm moving."

It was only after Vincent and two other men in the vicinity brought Gerri to the clinic — pulling the komatik by snowmobile — that he realized who it was.  

Told to prepare for the worst

Meanwhile, Piercy Boase, Gerri's father, said the staff at the health clinic in Hopedale told family members they should prepare for the worst. 

"We thought she was gone," he said. "She wasn't breathing. I mean, she never had no breath for a couple of seconds."

After staff at the clinic told Piercy and his wife Frances that Gerri was coming around, he promised his daughter that they would take care of her children while she recovered.

Gerri's parents sold 50/50 tickets and cold plates, and raffled off wood, to ensure that Gerri's children wouldn't go hungry while she was at hospital in St. John's.

Allan Vincent put a snowmobile up for auction to raise funds for the family.

Piercy Boase is grateful for the support from the community, but he said a lack of financial help from the provincial government has been frustrating, and added that help was not forthcoming even after his daughter returned home.

"I think we were the social services ourself. I don't know how we done it, but we done it," he said. 

"It's been a tough year. I go haul wood and I can't even get wood for myself because I end up selling it to help my family, help ourselves and help Gerri's family." 

8 fingers, part of right leg amputated

Gerri was first sent to the Labrador Health Centre in Happy Valley-Goose Bay before being transferred to the Health Sciences Centre in St. John's, where she had eight fingers and part of her right leg amputated.

She spent more than eight months recovering from her injuries before moving back home to Hopedale in October. 

"It's all so stressful knowing that I'm the reason this happened to me. All because of alcohol, I guess," she said, feeling heartbroken over not being able to play games with her children, like hide and seek, the way she used to.

At first, Gerri moved into her parents' house and then into the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing unit she had lived in before. 

It was a two-storey duplex with no wheelchair ramp. Gerri's boyfriend, Henoche Lampe, had to carry her backwards up a steep set of stairs to use the bathroom on the second floor where the bedrooms were also located.

Although it never happened, she worried her boyfriend could slip taking her up and down the 14 stairs in her wheelchair. Gerri's three children camped out with them in the living room. 

"It's not the same anymore. I miss making money for helping with the house and feeding my kids, and I miss going to school to get my education."

Gave up job at local hotel

Gerri hasn't been able to work in more than a year due to her injuries. She had to give up working as a waitress and cook at the local hotel in Hopedale, and stopped going to adult basic education classes to get the high school diploma she was also working on. 

For several months now, she's relied on the government family allowance, community donations and support from family members to put food on the table for her children. The mother of three, who is also expecting a baby in June, said her children are doing what they can to help out. 

"My kids, they shouldn't have to be telling me they're hungry because we got no food, " she said, adding that her son has taken on responsibilities that parents usually manage. 

"My oldest boy, he does stuff no nine-year-old should be doing. It breaks my heart." 

At the beginning of March, Gerri and her family moved into a single-storey apartment, equipped with a wheelchair ramp, that is provided through Newfoundland and Labrador Housing.

After a report aired on CBC's Labrador Morning, Gerri's mother, Frances Boase, said the province also contacted her daughter to fill out an application for assistance. 

'People have really jumped on board'

And the community support continues. 

Jackie Compton-Hobbs and Melanie Muzzerall of Happy Valley-Goose Bay were so moved by Gerri's story after hearing it on CBC they organized a donation collection for Gerri's family. 

"It's overwhelming and the people have really jumped on board to help out here," Compton-Hobbs said. 

Everything from donations of food, toys and clothing were collected to send to Gerri's family in Hopedale, including newborn items for Gerri's baby due in June. 

There was also a special birthday party held for Gerri's daughter on Saturday. Nancy didn't get to celebrate her proper birthday a few weeks ago because the family couldn't afford it.

Compton-Hobbs and Muzzerall sent up birthday supplies, gifts and a birthday cake to Hopedale so Nancy could finally celebrate her fourth birthday with her friends and family. 

"I hope that we get to see a little girl with a beaming smile, just happy and getting to celebrate a birthday like every other kids gets to celebrate, " Muzzerall said.