Nunavik patient at Ullivik gets wheelchair; family launches fundraiser to buy more

A Nunavik patient who frequently stays at a medical boarding home near Montreal has received a wheelchair that he can use there.

Now, his family is raising money to buy more wheelchairs for other Nunavimmiut who need them.

Jean-Guy St-Aubin is seen here on March 1 at Ullivik. When the wheelchair he was expecting to use was not available, he rode to his room on a luggage cart. (File photo courtesy of Brenda St-Aubin)

Jean-Guy St-Aubin, 76, of Kangiqsualujjuaq, regularly travels to the Montreal area to receive cancer treatments. Like many others seeking health care in the south, he stays at Ullivik, which provides short-term lodging for Nunavik medical patients receiving treatment in the city.

After a radiotherapy appointment that left him exhausted and wanting to lie down, St-Aubin returned to Ullivik on March 1 to discover there was no wheelchair available to take him back to his room.

He was unable to walk and didn’t want to wait for one of Ullivik’s eight wheelchairs to become available, so St-Aubin elected to be taken back to his room on an airport luggage cart.

Brenda St-Aubin, Jean-Guy’s granddaughter, shared photos of the ordeal on Facebook, which prompted an emotional response from hundreds of people.

Upon his return for more treatment last week, St-Aubin was presented a wheelchair of his own. It was delivered by family friend Samantha Poirier, and paid for by some people who saw Brenda St-Aubin’s Facebook post and wanted to help.

Inspired by the kind gesture, the two granddaughters have launched a GoFundMe account to raise money for more wheelchairs for other elders staying at Ullivik.

“The post went viral and it touched a lot of people’s hearts, and it also made a lot of people upset,” Julia said in an interview March 10, speaking as her grandfather was in an appointment.

“I think seeing an elder on a trolley really moved everyone.”

The GoFundMe has a goal of raising $4,000 to buy 10 new wheelchairs. As of March 13, people had contributed $1,430, which is enough to buy four wheelchairs at a cost of $350 each.

Julia said she and her family are incredibly thankful for the support people have shown for her grandfather’s situation and their willingness to contribute to the fundraiser.

However, Julia doesn’t want people expressing their frustrations to Ullivik’s staff.

“It’s the front-line staff that are going above and beyond,” Julia said.

“Management takes a while to answer to the needs of the patients.”

Ullivik’s management provided a statement to Nunatsiaq News saying the centre has adequate wheelchairs, but more are being purchased.

“The centre frequently orders wheelchairs because, as is the case in a hospital for example, sometimes the equipment gets damaged or lost through repeated use,” it said.

Julia St-Aubin said it’s been a positive experience to see so many people show support, not just for an elder in her family but for others who need mobility assistance.

She said the goal is to support all the elders who need assistance.

“He used to work from the minute he woke up until it was time to sleep, and to see him now having to struggle and not being able to walk up to his room is such a big thing like from what he’s lived, to what he’s living now,” she said of her grandfather, who used to be a lumberjack.

“You want to help people that are struggling like him, and for people to have the necessities of basic things like a wheelchair.”

Jeff Pelletier, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Nunatsiaq News