West Quebec community helps build house for little girl with big challenges

Océane McKenzie and her family opened the door to their brand new custom-built home in L'Ange-Gardien, Que., yesterday — one that couldn't have been built without their neighbours' generosity.

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Set in a snowy wooded lot, the house is designed to allow the 10-year-old girl to maneuver her wheelchair smoothly through spacious halls, easily reach kitchen cabinets and drawers, and roll into the shower by herself. 

A decade ago, McKenzie became the first baby in Canada to survive heart surgery while still in her mother's womb.

While her parents hoped she would have a normal life, McKenzie suffered multiple strokes after she was born, leaving her with severe brain damage.

She's unable to walk or speak and needs to be spoon-fed blended food.  

In the McKenzie family's old house, she had little space to move her wheelchair and needed to be carried up and down the stairs. 

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She loved trying to help sort the silverware, but the kitchen counters were too high for her to reach.

Her mother, Vicki, said the new home will grant her daughter the opportunity to do more things for herself.

"Right now we're her legs, we're her arms. Everything is us moving her around." she said.

"The fact that she'll be able to have independence, gives us independence."

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Crowdfunding campaign 

The family launched a crowdfunding campaign last year to build a more suitable home on a nearby lot after Vicki McKenzie injured herself carrying her daughter downstairs.

They were hoping to raise $50,000 to defray the cost of buying the land, but they received much more.  Local businesses, including construction and plumbing companies, pitched in labour and materials, while friends and strangers donated money.

The result was $125,000 in goods and services.

The family said they're overwhelmed by their neighbours' generosity, something Vicki McKenzie chalks up to her daughter's winning personality.

"She can get anyone to fall in love with her in an instant. It's that smile," she said. 

"She loves people. She loves life. Regardless of her challenges, she's just loving everything."