‘We can’t do it alone anymore’ — family seeks support for wheelchair vehicle

Angel and Joe Turner are hardworking and loving parents to their six children. Angel is from the Gitga’at Nation (Hartley Bay) and Joe is from Kahkewistahaw First Nation. The family currently lives in Abbotsford. Four of their kids are under six years old, their oldest is 12.

They have recently reached a point where they are asking for help to provide the care their family and especially their boy Joe Jr. desperately needs. 

Joe Jr., who’s five years old, has cerebral palsy, two seizure disorders, high tone and dystonia (disorder characterized by involuntary muscle contractions that cause slow repetitive movements or abnormal postures). He’s unable to move or speak. Most mornings, the house wakes up to Joe Jr. crying, Angel says, before she goes to take out his feeding tube and give him his medications.

“Some days are harder than others,” she says. Things have been more difficult after one of the family’s vehicles recently broke down. Now they’re down to one vehicle that isn’t made for a wheelchair, causing extra stress to the family who has been doing their best to make it by. 

“We haven’t been able to get a break… we’re just going day by day trying to figure out what we’re going to do… to the point where we can’t do it alone anymore, we’re putting our pride aside and asking for help.”

Joe works in construction and Angel has been in and out of school at the Native Education College, but has had to delay finishing her practicum due to her responsibilities at home. She’s been a stay at home mom for the last five years, the primary caretaker to Joe Jr., but now she works part-time as a cashier to make ends meet.

Angel’s sister started a GoFundMe Campaign to raise money for a wheelchair accessible vehicle that her nephew can sit in comfortably and some support to pay their bills. Right now, the car seat isn’t supportive enough for Joe Jr. who ends up twisting himself painfully and uncomfortably, Angel says. 

Since she and her husband have been down to one vehicle, Angel has been terrified that Joe Jr. will have a seizure and she’ll have to send him off to the hospital alone until her husband gets home. 

“I’m his primary caregiver, I know more about how he is and how he acts, his conditions, everything,” Angel explains. “The stress of thinking I wouldn’t be able to go with him is almost unbearable.”

Angel gives her son his medication three times a day. Every morning, after she takes out his tube and gives him his meds, she puts him in his chair when the pain subsides and fixes breakfast for the kids while her husband goes to work.

“They like to make their own waffles and toast, they pour their cereals, but I pour the milk… trying to teach them to be independent, but let them know they have help if they need it,” she says. “I change Joe’s bum, Tami’s bum, get their lunches ready and get the kids ready for school, get Tami into her carrier and Joe into his wheelchair.”

Angel is now walking the kids to school, carrying Tami who’s two years old and pushing Joe Jr. When she gets home, she preps for dinner before heading off to work. 

“My husband rushes home from Vancouver so I can get to work on time. He looks after the kids while I work at night,” she says. “When I get home, I do Joe’s nighttime meds, change his bum, get his feed ready, and if he’s in pain I’ll sit there and hold him until he falls asleep before I eat dinner, tidy up, go to bed, and do it all again the next day.”

The family is hanging on by a thread, Angel admits, financially and with the high stress of the situation. Angel says she’s not comfortable asking for help, but she doesn’t know what else to do. They moved to Abbotsford from Vancouver because of high prices, but the cost of living continues to rise, as with gas and food prices. 

The family is seeking support to purchase a basic model that will fit Joe Jr. ‘s wheelchair and the other children, to transport them safely to and from school and their many appointments. The vehicles they have been looking at cost around $30,000-$40,000, which Angel says “is crazy… just a lot of money to be thinking about.”

Angel’s voice is calm, gentle and even keeled as she speaks. Asking for help is not something she wanted to do, she says, but Angel’s care and love for her children’s well being comes first. As the main caregiver for Joe Jr., it has been hard for Angel or her family to find any sense of relief. Any support helps and is welcome, she says, and hopefully it will make it easier for Joe Jr., and the whole family.