Longtime local resident Mark LaBelle was thanking the Times on Monday after the newspaper let the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation know that it was working on a story about how LaBelle had been denied a disability allowance, apparently unjustly.
A short time later LaBelle received a telephone call from the Ministry telling him that, in fact, his appeal of the denial decision had been accepted. The letter telling him so just hadn’t reached him yet.
Much as we like to receive praise, deserved or otherwise, in this case it appears we really had little to do with the happy outcome.
According to the Ministry, LaBelle’s appeal had been accepted several days before the newspaper became involved in the case.
If we had any effect on the outcome, it was only to encourage the Ministry to phone LaBelle and let him know the happy news a bit earlier than otherwise.
That being said, however, the local man is still in difficult circumstances, and we think it important that the community know about it.
LaBelle has inoperable progressive cervical spinal stenosis.
That means that the canal in his neck containing his spinal cord is slowly getting smaller and smaller. His left arm is pretty well paralyzed and he is gradually losing control of his legs. Eventually, he could become a quadriplegic. Eventually, he could end up dead.
There does not appear to be anything the doctors can do about it.
“I’m in pretty desperate straits,” he said. “I’ve been working all my life, since I was 14 years old, and now I end up like this.”
Born in Nottingham, England to a father who was a member of the Canadian air force and an English mother, LaBelle came to Canada before he was one year old.
He has lived in Clearwater since 1966, when he started Grade 2.
In 1976, aged 17, he followed his father in serving his country and joined the army. He served three years with Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in such places as the Middle East and Australia.
Returning to Clearwater, he worked in a variety of jobs in the forest industry, including 16 years with Weyerhaeuser until the company closed its Vavenby operation.
LaBelle was involved in the local Karate club for many years, and progressed so far as to be tested for his first degree black belt.
He’s been injured before, but has always toughed it out and bounced back. He recalls at one time forcing his broken toes into a caulk boot so he could go to work.
He was married, divorced, and has a daughter and a grandson who live in Clearwater.
“It means a lot to me, to see my child and her child doing well,” he said. “I had money put aside for them, but now I need to spend it to live … I’m stubborn enough I’m going to make it last a long time.”
The local man’s present problems began in October, 2010, when he was helping to unload some firewood.
Carrying an armload of wood, he slipped and fell, striking his head against the bin as he went down.
Even though he had heard his neck pop as he landed and was bleeding profusely, he went home.
It wasn’t until a week later that he presented himself at the hospital.
Since then he has seen a long list of doctors and specialists.
The consensus now seems to be that little or nothing can be done to help his condition.
“I have four vertebrae that are collapsed, crushed and turned around,” he said. “Most surgeons are surprised that I am still walking. I have lost 75 per cent of the use of my left arm and my legs are starting to go.”
The local man can walk, but it’s a shuffle and he uses a cane for balance.
“I can walk across the floor, but I might have to stop halfway,” he said.
Sometimes he can drive from his home in Blackpool to buy groceries and have a cup of coffee at Bayley’s Bistro, sometimes he can’t.
Sleep is a struggle.
“I cut back on all the narcotics but one, plus two tranquilizers,” he said. “Sometimes I would wake in my own house and forget where I was.”
Having to deal with a constant rotation of locums during the recent period when Clearwater was down to one full-time permanent doctor did not help his condition, he felt.
Having no social services office in Clearwater also has been a problem.
“When I called to complain about being cut off, I was told I should talk with my case worker,” he recalled. “I asked who my case worker was. They couldn’t tell me.”
“I would like to see a case worker,” he added, “but in my condition, I can’t drive to Kamloops.”
LaBelle said that the extra money he would get with the disability allowance would help him to get proper bracing and a wheelchair.
“That money came out of my paycheque for 40 years. Just some of it back, that’s all I need.”
Belpw: Mark LaBelle practices karate with Connor Borsa in a 1998 photo. Prior to his accident he led an active lifestyle.