Do you remember what you wanted to be when you grew up? Some people are lucky to know at an early age which path they want to take. They plan for it beginning early in Highschool, figuring out which classes they need to take, and whatt grades they need to get in those classes, to get into the post secondary program they want.
Sometimes that all works out very well. Or sometimes they go get their post secondary diploma/degree in their chosen field, and either can’t find work, or discover it’s not what they thought it would be, and no longer want to work in that field. So, some go back to school for something else, some travel, and others get a job…any job…that ensures them a paycheque.
There’s nothing wrong with any of these options. I know people that have chosen all of the above paths, as I’m sure do you.
I grew up in a small town where everyone knew everyone. Kids from my elementary school out in the country came primarily from the surrounding farms as well as the 3 nearby villages – Wroxeter, Gorrie and Fordwich. It was and is a close knit community.
The Gallahers are one such family from the area. Glen and Lisa had 2 boys, Ryan and Tyler. Ty is a year older than me, so we knew eachother growing up. Ryan is a few years older so I didn’t know him very well. When it was time for the Howick kids to go to highschool, they went 3 different ways at the end of grade 8. Depending on where they lived, they either attended Wingham, Listowel or Palmerston Highschools. Like me, the Gallahers went to Wingham. I didn’t have much contact with Ty in highschool as we ran in different crowds. As I said, Ryan was older, so as I entered highschool he was finishing. Both boys were ball players though, and played either with or against various friends and family of mine. The Wroxeter ballpark is named after their grandfather. The Gallaher family continued to be an active family in Wroxeter, while mine continued on in Gorrie…towns separated by a 5 minute drive, a distance that many teens often walked or biked. They could also be found at local ball tournaments, stag and does and other community events, as could their parents. A couple years ago, Ty and my brother were groomsmen in the same wedding. A few years ago Ryan married the older sister of a friend of mine…they later separated.
Ty is now married and a father, living in Wroxeter. His mom lives in Belleville, his dad still in Wroxeter, near many other extended family members.
A few years ago Ryan travelled overseas to, like so many others, teach English as a second language. He returned home a few times, once for Ty’s wedding. He was employed by Cleverlearn, a company based out of California.
Early in June, the Howick township community learned that Ryan had been in a very serious motorcycle accident in Vietnam. A friend found him laying in a field, unconscious. No one knew how long he had been there or what had happened.
Ryan was taken to a local hospital, which has been compared to the hospitals you would see on the old TV show MASH. The conditions were extremely poor.
Imagine being Ryan, in the state that he was, completely alone, half a world away, in a coma, and at the mercy of medical staff who are nothing like what we are used to here. His friends overseas did everything they could to help him and take care of his needs.
Because remember, while he was initially fighting for his life in a “hospital” across the world, the extent of his injuries and his prognosis unknown, his mother, father, brother and every other family member he has, were here.
Imagine being that parent, receiving that phone call. Knowing your son needed you now, but you were here. Worse yet would be the not knowing. Knowing your son was in grave danger, but not knowing what was going on with him at that exact moment, not being there when he was taken to the hospital or in the days following, when everything was happening so fast. How completely scared and helpless you would feel.
With the help of her employer, Lisa made the plans to fly to Vietnam as soon as possible, not knowing where she was going, not knowing what she would be arriving to, not knowing anyone there. She didn’t have a passport when this happened and now was planning to fly across the world, having no idea how long she would be there.
In Ontario we have a little thing called OHIP, which pays for the majority of our medical care. When you leave this country you are recommended to have medical insurance that is valid where you are going, in case anything happens to you. Many people have this kind of insurance through their employee benefit packages. But not everyone has a benefit package through their employers, and so they have to make a special point to purchase it. My inlaws are farmers and my mother in law buys it even just to go cross border shopping...just in case. Ryan and his coworkers believed they did have insurance…imagine the shock the Gallahers felt when they were informed he infact did not. None of his medical expenses to date or in the future while overseas would be covered. At the same time Ryan’s coworkers were learning this about their so called insurance, they were also learning their visas weren’t valid. Attempts to contact Cleverlearn went unanswered. To date all Lisa has received from them is $200, which she said over there, would pay for ice.
Ryan’s friends overseas did all they could to pay for Ryan’s medical expenses while Ryan’s family back home were mobilizing. Ryan was transferred to another hospital in Vietnam, and then to another one in Thailand. This cost his father $15 000.
Lisa arrived to find Ryan in a coma, on life support, with a lung infection and bedsores. The extent of neurological damage was unknown, but the doctors told her they did not believe his brain had been shifted in the accident, which was a good thing.
Obviously Lisa, and everyone else back home, wanted Ryan brought home to Canada ASAP, to receive the medical care he needed and his family was accustomed to receiving. At the time Ryan was not stable enough to make the trip and it was not known if or when he would be. All Lisa could do was wait, and pray.
Imagine being that mother, alone, fighting for her son, begging him to hold on, having no choice but to believe the medical staff, having no way to get him home, in a foreign country, surrounded by strangers. Having to communicate with the rest of the family back home about what it was like, how he was doing, and then try to make decisions. Imagine how that would feel and what that would be like for Lisa….and for Glen and Ty, stuck back home…waiting and waiting to hear…constantly worrying and wondering what was going on. How would you function? How would you sleep? How would you continue with your day to day life knowing or not knowing, what was going on. Just imagine…for a minute…that this was your family…
As Lisa, and everyone else that knew the Gallaher family continued to wait and pray, the medical expenses grew each day. His stay at the hospital, the care he was receiving and the expenses Lisa herself was incurring while being there, continued to climb with no end in sight. One publication reported the care her recieved in Thailand to cost $40 000. Not many families have an emergency fund for something like this, especially typical, run of the mill working class families.
If Ryan was able to come to Canada, there were a few options on how to get him there. He could come on a Medi-Vac flight that would cost over $150 000 or he could come on a commercial flight which would cost less but would be somewhat riskier to Ryan’s health. The primary physician in charge of Ryan’s care assured Lisa it would be safe and that he had done it before and once Ryan was stable enough, that this route would work.
Ryan had been overseas for just under 6 months when the accident occurred. After 6 months of being out of the country, his OHIP would be suspended. Even if he was to come to Canada, if he arrived after July 13, his medical expenses would not be covered.
After consultations between the Gallahers family doctor in Listowel, a doctor in London, and the doctor in Thailand, and after waiting and praying, the day came where Ryan, still in a coma, was flown home. He was flown from Thailand, to Paris, to Toronto, and then taken by ambulance from Toronto to London. He required 6 seats on the plane, an array of medical equipment, various medical staff, as well as his mother’s ticket. This flight cost approximately $66 000.
Once he arrived in London, the medical team there “started over” as if they knew nothing about him – running the gamut of tests. The Gallahers were shocked to learn that everything that they had been told about Ryan’s condition while overseas was found to be the opposite by Canadian doctors. The team in London determined that his brain had been shifted and the prognosis was very grim. They were told that the medical care he had been receiving overseas was driven by how much money they could get out of the family. The Gallahers were told to prepare for the worst, and that Ryan would need full time nursing home care for the rest of life…if he was lucky.
Finally the Gallaher family and friends were able to see him, to visit him, to speak to him, to encourage him. And while they were taking care of their son, brother and friend, their community was making plans...Lisa’s employer and community in Belleville has held a number of fundraisers since the week the accident occurred almost 2 months ago. A website was created with Ryan’s story, a blog where Lisa is able to update what is happening, and an ongoing list of fundraisers coming up to help the Gallaher family. People can donate directly from the website and there is an ongoing tally of what has been raised so far. This website has also compiled all of the media attention the story has been given.
Lisa’s community has done a phenomenal job of standing beside her and doing everything they can to help, and now it is our turn.
By “our turn” I mean the Howick community. A lot can be said about Howick Township, way out in the "boonies", way up in “The North” of Huron County…surrounded by farmers and people living a slower paced life than those in the city, or even those in other areas of this county…
But when you grow up here and your family has been here their entire lives…when everyone knows everyone and the kids all go to the same school…when kids play on the same hockey and ball teams…when you coach those teams for years and years…when you look out for eachother’s kids as they play throughout town for years of their childhoods…when you can remember these kids as babies and now you know their babies… when everyone knows that is “Mrs Hamilton’s House” even though someone else lives there now…when you live in a community like that…one thing you do well, is support your own.
The Howick community is hosting a benefit dance to help the Gallaher family, this coming Friday night at the Howick arena. Support for this event has been nothing short of overwhelming. Donations have come pouring in from across the province. This is a story that has garnered a lot of media attention, including spots on Networked Newscasts and National Newspapers. People from far and wide are planning to attend this event to support the Gallaher family. Whether you know them or not, whether you talk to them everyday, haven’t talked to them in years, or have never spoken to any of them in your life…you feel compelled to help, and to support.
Maybe because they are people you have known your entire life, or because your kids went to school together, or because you played on the same teams growing up, or maybe just because you are a parent. And you cannot imagine what this mother and father have been going through, and wouldn’t wish that on your worst enemy. They haven’t just been advocating for their son’s health and medical care, they have been dealing with medical standards and policies overseas, they have been fighting Ryan’s employer from yet another country, they have been lobbying their own country to help take care of one of their own when Ryan’s employer chose not to, and they have went far into personal debt. Approximately $150 000 to date, all within the last 2 months.
All of this, the new focus of their new lives, while still having their own lives, jobs, day to day bills, etc. All of this changed for them overnight, with no warning, and very little help from others in positions of authority…”people in the know”. This is their new life…a life none of us could imagine. A life no one is prepared for, no one deserves.
But as a parent, you never know what is going to happen next with your kids, and when disaster does strike, you hope others will be there to help you through it. Maybe you have no ties to the Gallaher family, but you don’t need to to support them in some small way…because, God forbid….what if it was your child? Your sibling? Your cousin? What if this happened to your family? Maybe you don’t know anyone teaching Overseas…but it’s not about that. What if you were a victim of fire? What if you or someone you cared about needed treatment that was only available in The United States, or treatment that wasn’t covered by any benefit plan? What if disaster struck your family? People would rally behind you, rally to support you, because that’s what people do.
My family and the Gallaher family are not close friends. I last talked to Ty a couple years ago at a wedding, and I think I just said “Hi”. I couldn’t tell you the last time I talked to Ryan. But it’s not about that. It’s about supporting a family in need, because that’s what you do. You put yourselves in their shoes for just a minute, and realize how much they need the help and support of others.
What can I do to help? I don’t have a lot of money to donate, but I’m going on Friday night. I donated cheesecake, I am writing this blog. My friend Jodi donated a photo package and she has never met any of them and likely never will. She donated because that’s what you do. Because you have a heart and you feel the need to do something, anything.
What can you do to help? Maybe you can donate $10 through the website. Maybe you can donate something to the benefit. Maybe you can buy a ticket to the benefit, even if you have no intention of going. Or maybe you can come to the benefit, and be a part of something pretty incredible…just because. Even if you don’t know them or aren’t friends with them….someday it could be you needing the support…this is what people do.
If you live or are from Howick Township, this is the place to be Friday night. Over the years we have went to stag and does and supported people we barely knew, because that was the thing to do and the place to be. This Friday night, this is the thing to do and the place to be.
When Ryan was younger, maybe he didn't know he wanted to be a teacher. Maybe he never thought he'd live in a place like Vietnam. Maybe he had other plans that didn't work out, and this was the path that like so many others, he chose to take. No matter what he thought he would be when he grew up, no matter what choices he made throughout his life, this was not a part of the plan. This was not the dream his parents had for him. But this is now the reality that has to be dealt with. This is a terrible set of circumstances that are too much for one family to bear on their own.
If this was your family, your friend...what would you do?
"Be the Change you want to see in the world". ~Mahatma Gandhi
For more information:
Bring Ryan Home Website:
July 30 Benefit Dance, Howick Arena
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