To say Matthew Laferriere has been through a lot would be an understatement.
At only 31, the Windsor Park resident has had to deal with more serious health setbacks than most of us will face in our lifetimes. An autoimmune disease and more than one organ failure have put him on a roller-coaster of emotions; yet, illness has not been able to dull his enthusiasm for living.
“St. Boniface Hospital and Health Sciences Centre have saved my life, more than once,” said a grateful Laferriere, who is one of the 2019 Tri-Hospital Dream Lottery spokespeople. “I was in heart failure in the Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Another time they intubated me when I couldn’t breathe.”
Being admitted to hospital can feel like a huge relief, he said. “I’ve watched my wife, Jennifer (Paterson), running around and breaking her back trying to take care of me when I’m sick. Just knowing she doesn’t have to do that for a little while can be a relief. It takes that stress out of the picture – having people surround you and take care of you takes a load off, for you and your loved-ones.”
Into his second year at the University of Manitoba in 2007, he noticed he was out of breath and nauseated after climbing even a few flights of stairs – unusual for him, an avid hiker. “Maybe I need to stop staying up late and eating junk food,” he thought at the time. “I was blaming it on everything but the possibility I was sick and needed to see a doctor,” he recalled.
Working in a grocery store, he would feel dizzy when stocking the bottom shelves. “I was so anemic at that point that I would get a head rush from just standing up. That’s when I figured it was more than my poor lifestyle choices as a teenager.”
“My stamina was down to nothing.”
Doctors diagnosed him with aplastic anemia, a disease in which the bone marrow stops producing enough blood cells. It was the first serious health setback, striking just as he was starting out on his own.
Eventually, he dropped out of university to focus on receiving blood transfusions and his other treatments. A bone marrow transplant soon followed in the Health Sciences Centre (HSC) Adult Oncology/BMT Unit GD6, which provides treatment for acute leukemia, lymphoma and the inpatient component of blood and marrow transplantation.
“GD6 at HSC was probably one of the most comfortable places I’ve ever had to spend more than a week,” he said. “The nurses there are just seconds away whenever you ring your bell. It was comfortable, it was clean, it was a nice experience. I had all the things I needed to heal.”
A national outdoor equipment retailer hired Laferriere after he got better. The job let him indulge in his passion for camping and hiking; it was a perfect fit. “I went up to the corporate office and was promoted. I was feeling pretty good about myself and thinking, ‘If I can maintain this trajectory, it’s as if nothing had ever happened to me.’ I went back to university at the Asper School of Business – I had a good chunk of years where I was able to go out and be myself again.”
Everything seemed to be going great for him again. He was active again, getting dirt on his hiking boots. Then the relapse happened, and it all crumbled.
“And then the kidney failure hits me, and that took a lot of my momentum away. I was developing lung infections; fluid was building up on my lungs and my heart started to struggle. I hit a hard wall and nearly died. They diagnosed me with heart failure.” These were the second and third serious health setbacks for Laferriere, who found himself at death’s doorstep.
He remembers St. Boniface Hospital’s ICU as different than any other ward in which he’d been an inpatient. “It’s one-on-one care a lot of the time, for one. Staff are right outside your door, and they’re watching you all the time. They were always in a good mood and joking around with you, which when you’re in the ICU is something you really need. Overall it was a good experience, given the circumstances.”
For almost three years, he has been on disability leave from the job he loves. “I tried going back to work a few times,” he said. “I would do a return-to-work program and it would take me a few weeks to work my way back up to full time, and then I would get the flu and it would take me another four weeks to recover. And then I’d have to start all over again. I couldn’t keep doing it.”
The roller-coaster ride of emotions hasn’t ended for him, to this day. The possibility of receiving either a heart transplant at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre in Toronto or a kidney transplant at Health Sciences Centre have left him waiting and hoping for several years.
“By supporting the 2019 Tri-Hospital Dream Lottery, you help make the hospitals what they are for Manitobans,” he tells us. “I’ve seen what the money can do for programs, and how that can transform your surroundings and impact your state of mind when you have to be admitted for an extended period of time.”