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Lindsay teacher credits community for impacting his recovery

Paralyzed by meningoencephalitis, Matthew Kuiken, 30, appreciates amount of accessible Lindsay businesses and services

Originally published on on July 3, 2014

(LINDSAY) Sometimes, geography is an important part of healing.

Just ask Matthew Kuiken who is working his way back to what he hopes is “normal” after becoming extremely ill with a severe case of viral meningoencephalitis that has left him partially paralyzed.

The support of his friends, family and, especially, his community, has significantly impacted the Lindsay resident’s recovery.

“It’s been a learning experience for sure,” said Mr. Kuiken whose optimism is only slightly smaller than his infectious smile. “I look at the last two years and it’s just been wild.”

After graduating from Lindsay Collegiate and Vocational Institute, Mr. Kuiken – who had lived in Oakwood on the family farm since age four – headed off to university to become a teacher. He had been working with the Grove School and Treatment Centre through the Durham District School Board – helping at-risk youth at Brock High School complete credits – when, in early April, he began feeling increasingly ill.

On April 30 his then girlfriend discovered him incoherent at his home and rushed him to Ross Memorial Hospital. Stabilized, and the severity of the situation realized, Mr. Kuiken was airlifted to Toronto hospital where he spent 45 days in a coma. He lost 25 per cent of his body weight and muscle tone. Doctors drilled a hole in his skull to relieve pressure and hopefully avert brain damage.

He woke up June 15, virtually blind, ventilated and could move only his fingers.

In critical care until Aug. 3, Mr. Kuiken was transferred to the Lynhurst Spinal Rehabilitation Centre for four months. He then lived several months in a downtown assisted living centre, receiving treatment on an outpatient basis.

Although every health care need was available, they weren’t accessible.

“I really did feel like, after I left the hospital and moved into Toronto, it really was a struggle,” said Mr. Kuiken, 30.

Connecting with the City’s Wheel-Trans service was frustrating; when he did get through it was never a “live person.”

Less than half of the subway stations were accessible. The new subway trains were less accessible than the old ones. The closest transit to his apartment were inaccessible street cars.

“In Lindsay, it’s hard to find a business that is not accessible,” said Mr. Kuiken, adding, when he needs transit, “it’s “three rings and a human being.”

Toronto was also missing one important thing.

“There’s such a sense of community here,” stated Mr. Kuiken who has been back home for about year. “It’s not just the countless people I’ve met who give me words filled with encouragement and laughter. It’s everything. It’s the community I was so fortunate to grow up in, the community that has helped, and continues to help, in my recovery, and it is the community I am so proud to be a part of.”

In May, a fundraiser was held in Oakwood. The money has greatly helped with expenses but it was the overwhelming outpouring of support, not just from family and close friends, but former school teachers, local business owners, coworkers, members from his church, old friends and even old customers from when he worked at the Oakwood General store in his teens that had the greatest impact, said Mr. Kuiken.

Recently, Mr. Kuiken completed a course to use hand controls in his car but he’s determined to, literally, get back on his feet. It could take years, but he’s willing to do “whatever it takes” to rebuild the nervous system pathways that were “fried” by his illness. He has a daily workout routine, swims, does physiotherapy in his home and watches his diet.

He is close to completing his Masters in Education and would love to be back working, at least part-time, this fall.

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