Vankleek Hill resident Gabriel Landriault wants to raise awareness about a lack of accessible public housing after an illness put him in a wheelchair.

Landriault is now recovering, but when he was first seen by doctors, it was unclear if he would walk again.

“They were worried I was going to be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life,” he said. “If I hadn’t been improving since, I wouldn’t have been able to move back to Vankleek Hill.” The home he has in public housing on Boyd Street is not accessible and many businesses in the area are not accessible either, Landriault said.

Landriault noticed his mobility worsening in the winter months; he had difficulty going up the stairs, and later started falling down and not being able to get back up without using furniture for support, he says. The doctors at the ER weren’t sure what exactly was wrong, he says.

“When I first saw him it did not look good at all,” said one of his doctors, Dr. Guy Trudel, who spoke with The Review with Landriault’s permission. Dr. Trudel of the Ottawa Hospital recalls his patient could not move his legs at all when he was first admitted and upon investigation, doctors found nerve and muscle disease. But Landriault has made good progress, in part because of a change in one of his medications and his “amazing efforts” in rehabilitation, said Trudel. He’s now walking with canes and has even gone up a flight of stairs. “It’s unexpected,” said Trudel. “He’s doing way better than we would have predicted.”

Landriault says much of his recovery is because of the efforts of Physio and Occupational Therapists who have been working with him five days a week for several months.

Trudel said a lack of accessible housing has complicated Landriault’s return home. “One of the problems with having him access his home, access his community, see his children, is the accessibility,” he said. “That’s why he had to stay in the hospital. Otherwise he could have gone for days at home and planning his discharge would have been easier.”

Landriault says he’ll likely be walking with a cane for the rest of his life, and he hopes his story will raise awareness about accessibility in Vankleek Hill.

Hope for a new kidney

Landriault lost most of his kidney function after a prescription drug interaction in 2013. Since, he’s been on an organ donation waiting list, but, because he wasn’t expected to get any worse, other, more critical cases get priority.

Landriault says at first, he kept his condition a secret, but at the urging of his doctor he shared it on Facebook and later agreed to be interviewed for a story in The Review last summer.

The response was immediate, he says: his cousin got involved, and a family friend “stopped me on the street crying and offered me her kidney,” he recalls. Other parents at his son’s soccer matches asked about the donation process. His cousin was not a match, but Landriault says it’s possible another set of donor and patient will be found, his cousin will donate a kidney for another patient and Landriault will receive one from someone else who is a match. That could happen as soon as in the fall. There’s also a second prospective donor in the system, he said.

This latest problem might have left some people frustrated, but Landriault says he sees it as something else he’ll ultimately survive. “I’ve recovered from some pretty major events in my life,” including bi-polar disorder and kidney failure, he said. “I’ll survive, I’ll just be a different person afterwards.”

The community has also lent a hand, says Landriault – friends offered to look after his sons when he was first in the hospital, and when he was home, neighbours would drop by after work or at lunch and make sure he was ok. He says he was surprised by the support he received. “Some of these people didn’t even really know me, and are willing to do all that for me,” he said.

Landriault was home for the first time since being admitted to the hospital on Saturday, July 2.