Posts Tagged "opens"


New universally accessible playground opens in Surrey, B.C. | CBC News

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A new playground created for children with disabilities is open for fun in Surrey, B.C.

The 12,000 square feet playground was unveiled Oct. 8 at the Unwin Park in Surrey’s Newton neighbourhood. The city says the playground is the largest inclusive playground in Surrey, one of Canada’s fastest growing municipalities.

The space features adaptive equipment such as a wheelchair-accessible “we-go-round.” The park has double-wide ramps, which allows children in wheelchairs to get into it.

“Creating spaces where residents of all ages and abilities can enjoy active play together is at the centre of our vision to advance as a thriving, healthy community where everyone feels welcome,” said Mayor Doug McCallum in a release. 

The park is part of a five-year $50-million commitment from the Canadian Tire Corporation to help children across Canada overcome physical barriers to sport and recreation.


First-of-its-kind Parkinson’s community centre opens in Victoria

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For people living on lower Vancouver Island with Parkinson’s disease, there is now a community centre to help them through their journey.

Wednesday marks the official opening of the Parkinson Wellness Project (PWP) in Victoria, located at 2680 Blanshard Street. Staff refer to the facility as a community centre where people diagnosed with the progressive neurological disorder can come together and talk about their struggles with others going through the same journey.

Krista Lavoie, operations manager at PWP, says when someone gets diagnosed with the disease, often people suffer from depression and self-isolation.

One of the most important things someone can do for themselves at the time is to talk about it, she says. 

“We’re here sharing stories, we’re sharing food, we’re sharing laughter and we’re also sharing the hard stuff too,” said Lavoie.

“It’s important that everyone get a chance to do that here.”

Along with the emotional support, the centre emphasises fitness. While there is currently no cure for Parkinson’s disease, physicians globally recognize exercise as the number one way to combat the physical effects of the illness, according to Lavoie. 

“People with Parkinson’s need specific movements to slow their progression, so we use specific exercises that we introduce repetitively throughout our classes,” said Lavoie. “It’s helping regain those movement patterns that you’ve lost.”

Classes vary from circuit training to boxing classes, which benefit local residents like Sukhi Rai who was diagnosed with the disease nine years ago. 

Rai says he was an avid runner and knew something was wrong when he started having troubles with his left ankle. After seeing a multitude of health specialists, he finally had a diagnosis. 

“It was a relief to finally be diagnosed because I had been living with the symptoms for quite a few years,” said Rai. “I continued to work for a while but eventually I had to go on long term disability.”

For Rai, the centre offers him a weekly routine of exercise, conversation and a place to just come feel as though he is part of a community.

“Without it, I don’t know where I’d be,” said Rai. “It’s been a pillar of my health plan and my battle with Parkinson’s.”

The PWP is open to all people with Parkinson’s disease and those around them. 

“If you have Parkinson’s, everybody in your social circle potentially is living that journey with you,” said Lavoie. “We want all of those people in here and we just want to make them comfortable.”

The centre is 100-percent funded by donors, with no medical or government support. All classes are completely free but often participants will donate what they can per class.

People who are interested in learning more about the Parkinson Wellness Project or are looking for ways to donate to the facility can find out more at their website here


Firefighter who lost nine fingers opens up about depression, healing, and his new hand

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Erik Bjarnason was literally on top of the world, near the peak of Canada’s highest mountain, when disaster struck — and his descent from that life-changing event more than 13 years ago continues today.

He has not been in a freefall since that day, but just like a tough mountain climb, his life has had some exciting ups and challenging downs.

He experienced the low of losing nine fingers to frostbite, and the high of returning to work as a North Vancouver City firefighter.

The low of feeling judged by his disability, and the high of reconnecting with a long-lost daughter.

The low of suffering from depression, and the high of getting an innovative, new hand.

After attending a unique therapy program for first responders, Bjarnason now has renewed hope and, on the eve of his retirement after three decades as a firefighter and volunteer with North Shore Search and Rescue (NSSR), is sharing his story in the hope it could help others with disabilities or those suffering from workplace trauma.

“You are not alone. There is help and you should go get it,” he said in a recent interview. “A year ago, I was a basket case. Now I have a mission: Now I can feel useful again because I’m going to go out and hopefully help other people.”

Bjarnason has already spent the last 30 years helping people, but in a different way — as a firefighter and search-and-rescue volunteer. His efforts, occasionally chronicled in the pages of this newspaper, include: coordinating the 1995 search in the North Vancouver mountains for murder victim Lynn Duggan’s body; recovering four-year-old Eagle Brown, who drowned in a Squamish river in 1996; and organizing a team to help quadriplegic Dan Milina climb Mount Kilimanjaro in 2002.

Erik Bjarason beside the river where he found Eagle. WAYNE LEIDENFROST

Eagle Brown, 4. Handout

















Then in May 2005, Bjarnason himself had to be rescued, along with two other NSSR members, while climbing Mount Logan to celebrate the organization’s 40th anniversary: They were trapped for more than three days by a sudden, vicious storm that blew away their tent, Bjarnason’s gloves, and nearly all hope of being saved.

The climbers were plucked off Canada’s highest mountain, but Bjarnason’s severe frostbite would force the amputation of all eight fingers and his left thumb.

Erik Bjarnason being airlifted off Mt Logan in 2005. Linda Bily

Erik Bjarason in Vancouver General Hospital in 2005. Bill Keay

Told he would likely have to work a desk job at the fire department, Bjarnason fought back, passed difficult tests conducted by the Workers’ Compensation Board, and was reinstated as a full-time firefighter just 10 months after losing his fingers.

“I worked very, very hard to go back. Everything was different, everything was more difficult, everything was harder. But I was still able to do it,” said Bjarnason, who tattooed “courage” in large letters on his right arm to help himself get through this process.

“I had a hard time doing buttons, shoelaces, really small, intricate stuff (without fingers). But everything firefighters do is holding big stuff — hoses, axes.”

Bjarnason continued to make headlines, and his life seemed good: shortly after his amputation at Vancouver General Hospital, he reconnected with a daughter he hadn’t seen in 17 years; one of the first firefighters on the scene, he rescued a worker stranded on a crane high above a North Vancouver construction site in 2006; he climbed Mount Elbrus, Europe’s highest peak, in 2006; and took a teenager who also had amputated fingers to the Everest basecamp in 2008.

Erik Bjarason with daughter Joline.Jason Payne

Dan Millina with Erik Bjarnason. Jon Murray

“As soon as I went back to work, I went climbing again because I wanted to feel normal. I wanted to feel just like I was before,” he said.

But not everything was normal. He felt stigmatized by people who didn’t think he was up for the job, and he now believes he was struggling under the weight of the traumas he had witnessed over the years.

“I thought I was tough,” he said. “But first responders, we see people at their worst and that has to affect you after a while.”

He first asked for help for depression a decade ago, but there weren’t many programs — or much understanding — available then, he said.

“Before, it was kind of a taboo subject and you went through your life never talking to anyone, never complained.”

Although he was a fire captain who had a management role at the fire hall, Bjarnason started to retreat to his office and isolated himself from co-workers. On his days off work, he drank too much alone. He didn’t take care of himself, making the mountain climbing and mountain rescues he once loved nearly impossible.

“In 2009, I climbed Everest to 20,000 feet, and now I can barely climb a flight of stairs.”

One of the darkest moments of his career came in 2014, when the much-loved leader of North Shore Search and Rescue, Tim Jones, died of a massive heart attack while hiking with Bjarnason and Jones’ daughter Taylor out of the NSSR cabin on Mount Seymour.

Tim Jones, a longtime member of the North Shore Rescue team, died in January 2014.

Kim Stallknecht Kim Stallknecht /


“Tim did save my life on Logan and it was my turn to return the favour,” he said, noting Jones had arranged the helicopters for the Mount Logan rescue back in 2005.

“That was one of the worst calls I was ever on.”

Bjarnason knew he was not alone with his depression, because he attended a half-dozen funerals in recent years for firefighters lost to suicide. “All of them were good family people, had lovely spouses and families who cared for them, and good friends at the fire hall.”

However, there are efforts being made to reverse that trend.

“The attitude is changing today. I’ve seen more help in the last year than in the last 30 years,” he said.

Vancouver Fire and Rescue, for example, now has a trauma dog, Lola, to help firefighters with mental illness. And next weekend in Richmond, 350 first responders, including police, firefighters, paramedics and dispatchers, along with their bosses and experts, will discuss mental health challenges at a new conference held by the multi-agency B.C. First Responders’ Mental Health Committee and chaired by WorkSafeBC.

Help for Bjarnason came from the Resiliency Program, which was started in 2017 by two UBC professors in the faculty of medicine and the B.C. Professional Fire Fighters Association. It brings peers together in a UBC-owned lodge in Maple Ridge for four days to discuss mental health. Bjarnason was in the first group of eight firefighters to complete the program, and has been back six times as a peer leader for others attending the retreat.

The Resiliency Program has now run seven retreats since February 2017 for 70 participants, 60 of them firefighters from B.C., and the rest from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Washington, D.C., along with three search and rescue members.

Bjarnason, who at age 53 says he now “feels good again for the first time,” is taking what is technically early retirement after 30 years on the job, and hopes to turn his attention to other pursuits that will benefit people.

He has been asked to speak in June at a medical convention in Whistler, alongside the doctor who amputated his fingers, about his recovery process. This summer, for the third year, he hopes to return as a counsellor at a B.C. Professional Fire Fighters’ camp for children with burn injuries. He will also demonstrate to other amputees how his brand new hand works, potentially attending trade shows with the Washington-based company that made it.

Erik Bjarnason and his new hand.Francis Georgian

Indeed, Bjarnason is one of the first people to wear this mechanical hand, which was created by Naked Prosthetics about a year ago out of stainless steel with silicone rubber fingertip grips. When he moves his knuckles, the hand mimics the extension of a natural finger.

He tried other prosthetics over the years, but found they focused more on looking like a real hand rather than increasing his strength and functionality. His new prosthetic resembles something out of a science fiction movie, but gives him a stronger grip and allows him to do more.

“Before, it was like living my life wearing an oven mitt. Imagine wearing that for a decade,” he said. “This gives me better range, better control, basically helps me to do every day-to-day duty a little simpler.”

Bjarnason feels like he has “a complete full hand again,” and rather than being self-conscious about the unusual appendage, he likes it when people ask him about it.

“When people stared before, it was because I was injured. Now when people stare, it is because they see something interesting.”

Bob Thompson, president of the company that created Bjarnason’s new hand, believes these prosthetics have a psychological benefit because “self-esteem, function, getting back to what you were doing is really important.”

The company set out to build a functional prosthetic that got people back to work, he said, noting 86 per cent of Americans who lose fingers are men, many of them in manual labour jobs.

“For most males, it is heavily wrapped in being able to look after yourself, go back to work, and look after your family. The way (the prosthetic) looks is way down the list,” Thompson said.

Bjarnason hopes the new hand will help with practical, altruistic and adventurous pursuits.

Last year, he went on an ice-climbing trip in Colorado with the D.C. Fire Fund Foundation, which works with injured firefighters. Once considered an expert climber, he was the only person there with experience in the sport — and the only one who didn’t summit because his left hand was too weak to hold the axe.

He plans to return this year with his new secret weapon.

“This year with my new hand, I think I will be looking down at them,” he laughed.

“Now I can redeem myself.”

[email protected]

Twitter: @loriculbert

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A hereditary chief opens up about supplying his nation with free cannabis oil

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Hereditary chief Wil Marsden has made a name for himself in his community as the guy you see if you need access to cannabis oil.

He’s been providing it, free of charge, to people in Gitanyow, B.C., for the past six years — stocking fridges with a supply of syringes filled with the dark, molasses-like oil, instructing people on how to medicate themselves for a whole range of illnesses.

It’s deeply personal work for the young​ leader whose father died from prostate cancer in 2011. The day he died in a North Vancouver hospital bed also happened to be day he received his first dose of a synthetic cannabis medication. Marsden said his father had been asking the doctors for access to medicinal marijuana for years.

“He was totally shot down… They probably assumed that he just wanted free weed, I guess,” said Marsden.  

“I just want to make sure that nobody goes through what I did, having my father totally denied. And as a hereditary chief I have a responsibility to lead our people.”

Today Marsden has a spreadsheet to keep track of those in the village and surrounding area to whom he supplies oil. He said over the years the list has grown to dozens of people who have used the cannabis compound to successfully treat a range of health issues.

The medicine works pretty good’

Rocky Robinson at his home in Gitanyow, B.C. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

Sitting on the couch in his split-level home in Gitanyow, Rocky Robinson pulls out his tablet and starts scrolling through photos. 

“That’s when I was really sick,” he pulls up a photo of himself from a couple years ago where he’s much thinner.

“I was sick about three years and then I started using that marijuana — I don’t know what you call that oil.”

Robinson, a former firefighter, had been trying to get answers from doctors about why he was losing so much weight and was barely able to eat.

He’d been to the nearby hospitals, had CT scans and other tests but said the doctors weren’t able to come up with a clear diagnosis. At the same time he kept withering away — spending most of his time in bed. Eventually he got to the point where he needed help getting to and from the washroom.

At 70, Robinson said he isn’t in perfect health. But he said not long after starting to take the oil he gained back the weight he lost. He jokes about how the doctors now tell him he’s overweight.

He said he told his doctors about his use of cannabis oil, but they didn’t show much interest.

But other people in the tight-knit northern village took notice, watching their neighbour transform back into the man they knew, crediting cannabis oil for his recovery.

‘It’s done wonders for some people’

“I didn’t think Rocky was going to turn around, I thought it was over for him,” said Jacqueline Smith, who also uses the cannabis oil supplied by Marsden to treat her fibromyalgia.

“When you saw what he looked like and just how thin he was… he looked like he was less than 100 pounds. You see him today, he’s just happy and jolly and back to the same old person. It’s just amazing what it’s done for him.”

Robinson pulls up a photo on his tablet from when he was much thinner due to an unexplained illness. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

Smith said she started using the oil after her fibromyalgia worsened to the point that she was in constant, debilitating pain that made previously simple tasks like getting up and down the stairs a long and arduous process.

She said within weeks of taking the oil the pain was subsiding and she was moving around more. Less than two months later, she was back to her regular routine pre-illness.

She said not everyone in Gitanyow is convinced that using cannabis as a medicine is a good idea, “but it’s done wonders for some people I know of and even myself.”  

Smith said she still has some pain, but it’s manageable enough that she’s been able to go back to work. She’s also been able to get off all the prescribed pain medication she was on.

“I’m really thankful for that because I know another lady who has [fibromyalgia] in Hazleton and she’s constantly in the hospital… she’s in so much pain.”

A doctor’s words of caution 

Gitanyow is one of countless places around the world where people are sourcing a cannabis compound known as the Rick Simpson oil to treat various illnesses.

Simpson, a former Canadian engineer, is famous on the cannabis scene for providing instructions to people on how to make the oil he claims cured his basal cell carcinoma, a common form of skin cancer.

Anecdotal success stories from people who’ve used this oil are abundant online. But while stories of success are hard to ignore, doctors say there’s a danger in taking these stories and applying them to your own health concerns, especially if you have a disease that could potentially end your life.

Preliminary studies have been published about the oil’s potential health effects, but scientists have said that there is not yet enough evidence to make sweeping claims about its health benefits. 

“We don’t exactly know how cannabidiol works in the body,” Robert Laprairie, an assistant professor at the University of Saskatchewan’s college of pharmacy and nutrition, told CBC News in May. 

“I think we really just need more research and more studies in order to demonstrate whether cannabidiol is or isn’t effective as a treatment for different conditions.” 

Health Canada has also expressed concern over some of the therapeutic claims being made about cannabidiol.

Dr. Zeid Mohamedali is a urologist, medicinal cannabis researcher and consultant who also holds a PhD in cancer research from the University of British Columbia. He is a strong supporter of cannabis-based medicine but also wants people to use it with caution, and with the guidance of a physician.

Dr. Zeid Mohamedali is a Vancouver Island-based urologist and medical cannabis consultant. (Supplied)

“The problem with anecdotal, one-off evidence is there are so many different factors that control cancer evolution,” he said.

“You can’t be sure in a one-off situation that it is truly the cannabis that has made the change. It very well may be… but there’s no way for us to definitely say that it is the cannabis that has caused the change.”

Mohamedali said there are well-established therapeutic uses for cannabis, and some research to show potentially positive impacts in killing certain cancer cells but he worries about people taking preliminary research or anecdotes as a signal that they should opt out of proven treatments.  

“I have had patients who have suggested they would like to come off their chemotherapy and use cannabis and of course I totally disagree with that, because we don’t have the evidence to support cannabis as a single therapy for treatment of any of the cancers,” he said.

Mohamedali points to a breast cancer study as a prime example of why this could be dangerous.

He said that, in the lab study, a low dose cannabis compound was found to potentially kill breast cancer cells.

“That very same study showed that at a higher dose of CBD, those cancer cells grew faster. So the very same study, two different doses of the very same drug, gave very different responses,” he said.

When it comes to his own patients, Mohamedali said he’s seen hundreds of people have success using cannabis medicines for things like pain, sleep, anxiety and illnesses like fibromyalgia.

For people who are considering using the plant to self-medicate, he said to weigh the risk.

“If the risk is simply that you don’t get appropriate sleep, that’s not as harmful as if your cancer gets out of control or your seizures get to the point where you’re having severe seizures or some life-threatening outcome.”

Marsden said he understands why doctors are taking a cautious approach to medicinal cannabis, but he’s less concerned with the clinical studies and more invested in the individual successes he’s heard of and seen firsthand.

Following protocol

With recreational cannabis about to become legal, doctors like Mohamedali are concerned about diminishing the medicinal component of the plant.

Jacqueline Smith said she worries about the lack of education people have around it and how it might impact the mental health of young people in Gitanyow.

But when it comes to medicinal distribution, and the work Marsden has been doing, she’s fully supportive.

“We’re a small community and it works for us,” she said.

Marsden said cannabis shouldn’t be treated differently from the medicines people have harvested from their territory for generations.

Marsden holds up a syringe of cannabis oil. The oil is ingested orally using a toothpick held under the user’s tongue. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

“We use quite a bit of traditional medicines. Elders and people in the village, we go out and get devil’s club and all of that,” said Marsden.

Devil’s club is a plant harvested for its medicinal properties by many Indigenous groups across Canada and the U.S.  

And like the harvest and distribution of local medicines, no money is exchanged when Marsden supplies people with cannabis oil.

“He doesn’t charge anything for it… because our belief is that it doesn’t work if you do that,” said Smith.

“It’s just like the plants we go out and get. We pick those and we give them to people. We’re always taught not to sell that.”

Asserting the nation’s rights and title, and Gitanyow Ayookxw (law), is something Marsden was raised to do. He’s fully embraced cannabis under his nation’s legal system and sees cultivating the plant and supplying people in the community with its medicines as an inherent right.

“It’s legal under our law… regardless of the provincial or federal laws,” he said.

“We live under our law. We live with our title to the land and it keeps us healthy. It’s a very comforting system that we have. Nobody’s ever left alone.”

Expansion plans for legal cannabis  

There’s a lot of interest in capturing the economic benefits from the legalized landscape across Canada and Gitanyow is no exception.

More than a dozen people sit around a boardroom table in the Gitanyow health office for a meeting about the nation’s green energy plan — a portfolio that includes food security, alternative energy and cannabis.  

Among those in attendance are Garry Reece and Simon Harvey of Nomis Holding, a Pemberton, B.C.-based company working to become a licensed cannabis producer under the Health Canada framework.  

Marsden is most interested in producing whole plant oil locally and educating people about the medicinal properties of the plant through his venture Kitwancool.com. But he’s not opposed to selling it for recreational purposes — to him, there’s not much of a difference.

From left, Garry Reece, Wil Marsden and Simon Harvey pose for a photo after a meeting at the Gitanyow Health Centre regarding the proposed partnership with Nomis Holding Ltd. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

He’s in talks with Reece and Harvey from Nomis about partnering up.

Harvey, the company’s CEO, said the aim is to focus exclusively on supplying cannabis products to First Nations. There are also plans to offer modular dispensary services to communities.

Marsden’s long-term vision is ambitious. He wants to see greenhouses built in the community to grow cannabis and food — and to power the greenhouses through alternative energy sources.

But it’s still not clear how things will unfold with the proposed Nomis partnership or what kind of demand the dispensary will attract. Marsden said they’ll be ready to start processing online orders by about January.

People in the community are already growing a crop of plants.

“At the end of this year we’ll have a crop to produce; we’ll have a workshop and show people how to produce it and follow the Rick Simpson recipe,” said Marsden.

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