Photo: Oai Truong
November 11, 2021
For military veteran Paul Kennedy, St. Boniface Hospital was a tranquil harbour in a storm.
“Some of us are fortunate to reach harbour,” said Kennedy, 72. “Many do not. St. Boniface Hospital has given me my life back with their love and devotion.”
In the early 1990s, Kennedy was a Warrant Officer with the Canadian Army on a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Croatia. He sustained serious injuries when the 15-ton armoured vehicle he was riding in struck a roadside bomb and flipped on its side. His neck was broken in two places, and he lost the use of his left arm and left leg.
Years of rehabilitation followed. Kennedy, who grew up in Central Ontario, arrived in Manitoba with the military during the 1997 Red River Flood to help set up new buildings and homes around Rosenort. There he met his future wife, Dianne (“she was in hip waders in a flooded basement.”). They made their home in the Morris area.
Around this time Kennedy began suffering a worsening pain in his legs.
“My legs were turning blue. I could barely tolerate each day. I was slowly becoming dysfunctional.”
Doctors at St. Boniface Hospital diagnosed Kennedy with chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP). It’s a rare neurological disorder in which there is inflammation of nerve roots and peripheral nerves and destruction of the fatty protective covering (myelin sheath) of the nerve fibres.
Kennedy began receiving a weekly treatment of intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG). Made from human plasma, IVIG contains a mix of antibodies that can strengthen the body’s immune system. He estimates that over the past 12 years, he’s visited St. Boniface Hospital nearly 500 times for the day-long treatments.
“I came for help as a very disabled person, barely able to speak, or to walk without the help of a wheelchair or a power scooter. I was revitalized through the care I received.”
Help at the McEwen
As Kennedy sought treatment for his body, the Hospital also treated what he described as his “sagging spiritual and mental hope”.
“I had lost hope in the future. The care for my mental health that I received at St. Boniface changed my outlook.”
On the St. Boniface Hospital campus, that care takes place in the McEwen Building, home to mental health services ranging from psychiatric care to occupational therapy for adult patients living with mental illnesses. Over 400 inpatients are admitted to the facility every year, and care teams also handle more than 14,000 outpatient visits annually.
With generous donors contributing $1.5 million toward the project, the McEwen Building underwent extensive renovations to provide an optimal environment for healing.
Shortly after a virtual reopening ceremony in May 2021 to celebrate the improvements, Daryl Croft, Program Team Manager, St. Boniface Hospital Mental Health Program said, “we start from the place that patients are more than their disease or their diagnosis.”
“The doctors, nurses, therapists, social workers, aides, housekeeping, security – all of us on site – we care passionately for our patients.”
Indeed Paul Kennedy believes the caregivers – more than any pill or piece of equipment – make the difference for healing.
“Respect is something you earn. St. Boniface Hospital has earned my respect.”
“It’s not about the latest treatment – the concern of the caregiver has to be real. If you can’t deliver care with understanding and patience, it won’t mean a thing.
When I faced a barrier of pain and struggle, the caregivers helped me break through. They gave me a reality check and taught me how to cope. And I learned to take responsibility for my own health.”
Kennedy continues to reckon with his health issues. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, he gets his IVIG treatment at the hospital in nearby St-Pierre-Jolys, rather than travel into Winnipeg. At home, he does physiotherapy. He praises Dianne for modifying their house to meet his needs. Repairs, projects, reading, and learning engage him.
Raised by a priest, Kennedy was once in training to become one.
“I’m a spiritual person. I see that St. Boniface Hospital is a spiritual place. There’s a moral level I so admire in the nurses. The Grey Nuns would be very proud.”
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