Fiona was 40 years old when she received the diagnosis that would forever change her life. Spinal arthritis, a progressive disease that can cause paralysis to one side of the body, known as Hemiplegia, meant she could no longer stand or walk without supportive devices. This permanent disability eventually put an end to her career as a high school teacher overseas. Without an income, it wasn’t long before she was in danger of becoming homeless.
Growing up in a military family, Fiona attended schools all over the world, including elementary schools in Singapore. In her early 20s, she came to Canada from England, where she was born, and earned a degree in Education at UBC. After graduating, Fiona began her career as a high school teacher and a few years later, was promoted to head of the teaching department where she taught History, English, Geography, Civics, and Religion.
While reaching up to open a cupboard one day, Fiona lost control of her muscles and fell to the ground. She was unable to move her limbs on one side of her body, and after numerous tests and doctor appointments, it was confirmed that the Hemiplegia would be permanent. Fiona was at a loss for how to cope with such a devastating life change but was determined not to let the disability take over her life. She continued to teach while hiding the severity of her illness. But coping with the illness and hiding it took a toll on her mental health. Eventually, Fiona had to give up the job she loved so much.
Without an income to support herself, it didn’t take long before Fiona’s savings ran out and she could no longer afford to pay rent. With nowhere else to go, Fiona landed at Victoria Cool Aid Society’s Next Steps transitional shelter. While there, the shelter staff helped her apply for disability benefits and find permanent housing.
Fiona’s health condition continued to deteriorate, both physically and mentally. It wasn’t until she was referred to Cool Aid’s Community Health Centre that Fiona found a physician, Dr. Fraser Black, who was able to treat her with the care she needed. Fiona was also referred to the Health Centre’s resident counsellor who helped address her depression and come to terms with losing her career.
“Cool Aid has been amazing. I can’t be sure that I would still be here if it wasn’t for the counselling and healthcare I got at the Community Health Centre,” says Fiona.
She now has her healthcare and support needs met through Cool Aid Society. Fiona likes to keep busy and give back to the community. She is a Volunteer Disability Advocate assisting people with disabilities and she also volunteers for Cat’s Cradle Animal Rescue, where she fosters cats in palliative care. When she’s not busy helping others, Fiona does many crafts, including needlepoint and making adorable clay animals that she gives away as gifts – mostly to the staff at the Community Health Centre!
If Fiona could have one wish? “I would love to have a job. An office job doing administration would be wonderful if it could accommodate my mobility issues.” While Fiona is living with uncertainty about the progression of her illness, she is confident that Cool Aid will be there to help her every step of the way.
To help people like Fiona, please visit coolaid.org/donate or call 250-383-1977. Stay up to date with Victoria Cool Aid Society and like them on Facebook here.