Shriners head to town for possible last hurrah
Long after they're gone, the kids Shriners and their hospitals help will be around -- a living legacy outlasting the clowns, parades and funny little cars.
"They're a great group and someone should show some appreciation," said Winnipeg real estate agent Gary Bachman, a former Shriners Hospitals for Children patient.
When Bachman was five, he had a rare disease that slowly disintegrates the hip bone. "Those were the days before medicare," he said. "My parents had exhausted every other alternative."
Thanks to the Shriners, today Bachman's walking just fine.
"I was diagnosed when I was five and cured when I was 10," he said.
Bachman's never spoken publicly about his time at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Winnipeg. He wanted to share his story and give thanks to the organization as it meets in Winnipeg this week.
His longest stint at the Shriners hospital was in the early 1950s. Bachman has vivid and fond memories of the place and the people.
"In Grade 4, I was in for about six months," he said. "It was a kid's version of MASH," recalled Bachman, 66. "You had guys coming down from the operating room covered in Mercurochrome."
He was treated and fitted with experimental braces on-site by a man named Archie.
"It was all experimental -- there was nothing done then -- that was 61 years ago," said Bachman. Archie's experiments were a success that helped prevent Bachman's hip from disintegrating.
"I had to wear a brace and crutches to stay off it so I wouldn't crush it." His family helped, too, including older brother, music legend Randy.
"He was six or seven. He pulled me to school in a wagon or in the winter in a sleigh," he said. Their school in West Kildonan was only 21/2 blocks from home but it was a difficult trek for a kid with a troubled hip.
"It was hard to walk on crutches and braces," he said. The devices and care helped, though.
"When I was 10 I was healed," said Bachman. Still, one leg was shorter and smaller. After getting rid of the brace and crutches he'd worn for five years, he would've been happy to just wear a shoe with a raised heel, but his mom insisted he try to even them out.
"I had therapy every day. My mother would get out the yardstick" as an incentive, he said.
Kids and patients were treated differently back then, said Bachman, who has five grandchildren. Hospitals were stricter about visitors and the spread of disease when he was first admitted as a child.
"I was quarantined for two weeks in a cubicle," he said. Families could only come inside and visit on Sundays. On other days, they improvised.
"They visited me outside my window," said Bachman. Somewhere there's a picture of Randy talking to him through the window of the hospital that's now the Children's Rehabilitation Centre on Wellington Crescent.
"They're all good memories. It wasn't a bad place but it was lonely," he said. "Still, you appreciated everything," especially when there was no universal health care in Canada. "All the doctors were volunteers."
Today, Shriners hospitals still help kids with specialized care in orthopedics, for burns and rehabilitation.
When Rylan Bileski, 7, was born with cerebral palsy, his parents were told he might never walk. A friend told them about the Shriners and Ryan was soon on his way to their hospital in Minneapolis, receiving specialized surgery and equipment as he grows. Today, he climbs on the playground equipment with other kids and is entering Grade 2.
"It gave us hope," said his mom, Lorraine Bileski.
Matthew Reimer was born missing bones. "They weren't expecting him to live," said his mom, Grace. They, too, were directed to the Shriners. Soon, they were at the Shriners hospital in Montreal, with a plan for Matthew to receive surgeries and prosthetics as he grew.
Today, he's turning 13, riding a customized bike the War Amps and the Shriners paid for, and planning to be a sports reporter.
"It's cool," he said.