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Red vests bring hope: Red Cross helps hospital evacuee in Alberta fires

Until visitors opened the curtains on his hospital window, Ryan Cyr had no idea advancing wildfires had triggered the evacuation of Fort McMurray.

A quadriplegic recovering from recent surgery, Cyr was startled to see fire and smoke billowing over a neighbourhood just across the highway from his hospital room. “I could see the flames on top of the hill, and I thought, okay, this isn’t going to be good,” said the 21-year-old.

Many anxious hours followed as hospital staff and Cyr’s friend and caregiver, J.C. Tremblay, struggled to move dozens of patients to safety. Among the last to leave, Cyr ended up on a mattress on the floor of a city bus for a bumpy, five-hour drive to a private airport, before being flown to an Edmonton hospital. But Cyr and Tremblay said they didn’t really relax until a Canadian Red Cross outreach team showed up at the hospital and offered them a hotel room.

“Ryan was really ready to be discharged, and just seeing those red vests, the Red Cross coming to help us, that just brought such good feelings,” said Tremblay, who is in his 60s. “The people with Red Cross are just amazing. Not only do they offer all sorts of stuff that you really need, because we left with pretty much nothing, but you don’t even have to ask because they really understand what you’re going through.”

Since wildfire evacuations began in early May, Red Cross outreach teams have been visiting hospitals and other locations, assisting the most vulnerable evacuees with health and other unique challenges.

So far, the friends have received $600 each in immediate financial assistance from Red Cross, along with vouchers for groceries and other necessary items, said Tremblay. Equally important was help getting a special bed and mattress for Cyr. And the outreach team continues to check on them daily, said Tremblay. “They call us or drop by the hotel just to see how we’re doing.”

Tremblay became Cyr’s caregiver and friend almost three years ago, shortly after a shooting incident in 2012 left the teenager paralyzed and close to death in hospital. A recently-retired pipefitter, Tremblay heard about the teen’s situation from friends, and decided to help.

“I’d probably be dead by now, if it wasn’t for J.C.; it’s a simple as that,” said Cyr.  “He’s given me back the brightness in life, some freedom because boredom can be a real killer for someone like me. He’s given me a sense of living again.”

Smiling, Tremblay added:  “Well, no one is meant to live in a hospital, especially not a teenager.”  The pair share a laugh, remembering a casino visit for Cyr’s eighteenth birthday. “Yes, we try to have some fun, for sure.”

Now, while they wait to hear about the condition of Tremblay’s Fort McMurray apartment, they are considering a permanent move to Edmonton, where hospital services are more plentiful.  But they need a home specially equipped for Cyr, as well as another wheelchair, which was lost during the evacuation.

“We have lots of things to figure out still, but we can’t say thank you enough for all the help from Red Cross. It’s really been a lifesaver,” said Tremblay.
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