Ron Campbell of Jamaica has been working at Sheridan Nurseries in Glen Williams for 33 years through the Offshore Workers program. From his home in Cessnock, Hanover, about 45 minutes from Montego Bay, Jamaica, Campbell has traveled to Canada every year for eight months, working at Sheridan to make a better life for his wife and four children. He has paid to put all his three older children through school and college (in Jamaica, school is government-sponsored until Grade 4 and then it is pay-as-you-go by the parents) and also paid to educate his nephew. Ron and Margaret have a fourth child-- 13-year-old Michael. Michael is handicapped. During Christmas of 2004, Sheridan Nurseries president Bill Stensson and his family took a holiday in Jamaica and visited Ron and his family. When Stensson returned, he told senior vice-president Karl Stensson and his wife Valerie about Michael and how he was severely handicapped. Stensson suggested to Karl and Valerie that Sheridan should find a way to help. "The next time we saw Ron we asked him about Michael," said Karl, "We learned Michael has scoliosis, which is a permanent and worsening curvature of the spine. It's a degenerative disease, which causes a person to double over and not walk upright." Ron told Karl how he and his wife had taken Michael to Kingston, Jamaica for consultation. The doctors said the operation was too complicated, and suggested Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. When they applied, Sick Children's Hospital turned them down, too. The Campbells were referred to the Shriners Hospital in Montreal as the Shriners have a program to assist children and also cover the cost of part or all of the medical procedures. In April 2005, Valerie Stensson became involved, contacting the committee at Shriners to review Michael's case. The committee reviewed the case in June, and turned them down as well. Stensson then talked to a nurse in Montreal who suggested the same doctors might perform the operation at Montreal Children's Hospital. One of the surgeons there told Stensonn that Michael would, in fact, require three operations. The first would lengthen the tendons in Michael's hips, knees and ankles and he would need four to six months of rehabilitation to learn to walk upright again. Following rehab, two operations would fuse his spine in an upright position-- one from the front and another from the back. The total cost of the operations and rehab would be $75,000. "I presented it to the executive at Sheridan," said Karl Stensson, "and they immediately agreed we'd cover the cost of the operations now and then address the issue of where the money comes from later." That turned out to be the easy part. "The Canadian High Commission in Jamaica was less than co-operative," said Karl. "Val had finally secured an appointment date for Michael to be assessed in Montreal, February 2. 2006. We started in November (2005) and over the holidays Margaret took a three-hour bus ride (each way) to Kingston three times. Each time the High Commission would take what they had asked for but each time they added something new." By late January they still did not have permission for Michael to travel to Montreal. The government wanted further guarantees Michael's care would be fully paid for-- not be a burden on the Canadian health care system. "That guarantee had been provided many times," said Karl, "but the Canadian High Commission wanted another form of guarantee. It was apparent they were dragging the process out."
Valerie finally e-mailed Wellington-Halton Hills MP Mike Chong with details of the case.
"To Mike's credit he was back to us in one hour," said Karl, "we explained to him that the Canadian High Commission would not speak to us directly." Chong called the High Commission and soon after both the High Commission and Chong's office in Ottawa contacted them to say Michael could come to Canada
Unfortunately, the delays had cost them their appointment, but the doctors agreed to meet them the following week. The travel visas came in and Val booked flights for Margaret and Michael to travel to Montreal on February 11. The doctors agreed-- it was a go. The first operation was performed in April, to cut and lengthen Michael's tendons in his ankles, knees and hips. It was followed with extensive rehab and physio and Michael also needed expensive braces to get him through this phase of the ordeal. The Shriners decided to help out, and donated the costs-- about $6,000 worth. In addition, the Shriners also waived their rule to not provide education to out of country patients. Michael is now attending school, thanks to the Shriners. Sheridan also loaned him a laptop, so he can keep on top of his studies, as well as learn computer skills. Michael suffered a setback when doctors discovered he had fluid on his spine and brain. A shunt was surgically implanted in August, adding another $20,000 to the cost of his treatment. "He's now getting ready for the back operation," said Karl. "We hope that will take place in January or February of 2007, and the prognosis is good. After that, Michael should be able to walk upright and carry on a fairly normal life." Valerie is in touch with the hospital every Friday, keeping tabs on Michael's progress and supporting Margaret. This past weekend, Karl and Valerie visited Michael and Margaret, and were joined by Ron who returned to Glen Williams with Valerie and Karl Sunday. A fundraiser-- called Stand Up For Michael-- is now in high gear to raise the funds Sheridan has put up-front. "Sheridan is donating $20,000 to the cause," said Karl, "and the employees have also raised another $30,000-plus through various fundraisers. "We decided to hold a 50-50 draw, but to do so, required charitable status. Rev. Grahame Stap of St. Alban's in the Glen offered the help of the church, so they are administrating the 50-50 draw. It's a perfect solution-- every penny raised by the draw will go toward Michael's fund, as there are no administration costs involved." To date, with about $30,000 worth of tickets sold, the 50-50 draw already has a win potential of $15,000. If all tickets are sold, the winner could walk away with a total of $30,000. Ticket sales will end November 30, and the draw will be made December 4 at Sheridan Nurseries in Glen Williams. Tickets are $5 each or five for $20 and are available at Sheridan's head office on the Tenth Line, at McMaster's Meats on Main Street Georgetown, The Glen Oven Bake Shop on Main Street, Glen Williams and at Mattina's Cucina on Mountainview Road N. If anyone misses the 50-50 draw, they can also donate directly to the fund, by dropping by Sheridan's office. In addition, Sheridan Nurseries has a `Round-up for Michael' campaign in place, asking customers at their retail outlets if they want to round up their purchase to the next dollar to donate to Michael. Karl says the response has been overwhelming. "In total, we have a target of about $100,000 to cover Michael's medical costs," said Karl, "If we go over the $100,000 mark, we'll simply donate the extra to Michael to take back to Jamaica with him, to make his life better there-- for education, personal needs, or whatever he needs." Whatever the outcome, through the generosity of a local company and some caring people within it, Michael's life is already much better than any of his family ever dreamed it would be. After visiting Michael this past weekend in Montreal, the Stenssons have nothing but praise for the care he is receiving during his rehab at Shriners Hospital. "Val and I had an incredible experience at the Shriners Hospital," said Karl. "It was an amazing hospital with the friendliest and most caring staff I have ever seen. It has motivated us to actually try a fundraising effort next year to thank them for everything they have done for Michael."
Val and Karl Stensson of Sheridan Nurseries, take time to check the progress of the Stand Up for Michael campaign, which is now in full swing, to raise funds to pay for the 13-year-old Jamaican boy's corrective surgery.
Ron Campbell visits with his son Michael in Shriners Hospital, Montreal.
Margaret Campbell and her son Michael were visited by Val and Karl Stensson of Sheridan Nurseries at The Shriners Hospital in Montreal last weekend, where Michael is currently undergoing physiotherapy after having corrective surgery on his legs, hips and ankles. He will require two more surgeries to completely correct his spine, caused by Scoliosis. The cost of the surgery has been covered upfront by Sheridan Nurseries, which are now holding fundraisers to raise the funds.