Gary Paquin felt alive when he held a set of drumsticks.
Feeling the music pulse through his body, he played the drums with passion and pleasure. Like his father and brother, music was a large part of his life; tap a beat for the musicians around him and give the crowd a great show.
He played for years, travelling from coast-to-coast with several recording artists in Canada.
But that all changed when a tick hiding in the fur of his cat returned home and infected him with Lyme Disease. Gary was in his early-50s when his illness stole his ability to play the drums.
Now, at 57 years old, he’s fighting for his life.
Wearing a leather jacket in late October, Gary talks about the challenges he has endured. He isn’t looking for pity, but he would appreciate help to finance a potentially life-saving medical treatment he wants more than anything, including the ability to play his drums again.
“The hardest part of this disease is getting help,” says Gary who lives in South Frontenac Township.
Struggling to diagnose the condition that was stealing Gary’s motor function, doctors prescribed a variety of medication that were ineffective.
Finally, after 1.5 years of suffering, Gary spent $600 on a test in the United States to confirm Lyme Disease.
“There is a real problem within Canada,” he says thoughtfully. “Many doctors do not have a solid understanding of the disease and the doctors who do can lose their license for treating chronic Lyme, along with Ontario's flawed testing.”
With precious time lost, Gary returned to Canada to treat the disease that was creating havoc in a body already compromised by Type 1 Diabetes.
Dependent on insulin since he was nine years old, Gary’s immune system was powerless to fight the bacteria invading his cells.
“It’s a little bit complicated,” he says with a small smile when asked about his management and control of diabetes. “With the other conditions, I have a pretty good hold on that.”
What he hasn’t got a hold on is the Parkinson’s Disease that set-in two years ago from the long-term effects of chronic Lyme which damaged him neurologically.
“My motor skills are severely impaired. The chronic fatigue is incredible,” he says about the degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that mainly affects the motor system.
Already showing signs of shaking, rigidity, slowness of movement and difficulty walking, Gary knows the disease is progressive and relentless.
To stay alive, he has spent his savings and sold almost everything he owns, including his drum kit and acoustic guitar from his late father, to pay $500 a month for medications and visits to a naturopath.
“Alternative therapies have helped,” Gary attests. “In the end, you do what you can afford and hope it’s enough.
“Saying that, there is a huge urgency to get the funds for treatment as I fight to maintain my independence and dignity as the diseases take more of my life day-after-day. Time is not on my side.”
Looking tired as the night closes in, Gary admits, “Sickness has taken away most of the things I love. My drumming career has been completely squashed. I can’t function normally. When I couldn’t play the drums, I lost my heart.”
“I can’t button-up shirts or tie my own shoes,” he continues. “I try to stay positive because stress makes it worse. It’s hard not to be pissed-off, it’s an outrage. But I don’t feel sorry for myself. It’s anger more than anything and some acceptance because you have to accept what you can’t change.”
He notes solemnly, “I’m grateful just to be alive. I just buried a good friend last weekend who was only 52. It makes me grateful for the things I can still do such as the ability to feed and wash myself.
“My blessings are many,” he says, referencing the functions he still has and the friends, family and church who are rallying to support him through a fundraiser at Zorbas Banquet Hall on Nov. 18.
The fundraiser is to help offset the cost of stem cell transplant for Gary.
“It was a quite a process just to qualify for the treatment because you have to be the ideal candidate,” he explains. “They plan to harvest the stem cells from my own body. It’s regenerative medicine. The stem cell network will be working closely with me for at least two years to help me and gather research for future patients who might benefit from this treatment. They’re also trying to find better ways to improve and help other people who are suffering from a debilitating disease.”
Working to raise $10,000 to cover expenses not funded by OHIP, Gary’s voice sounds hopeful about his upcoming treatment which boasts a 63 per cent success rate with Parkinson’s symptoms. Calling it the new face of modern medicine, Gary says stem cell transplant should help with his Lyme Disease and some of the damage caused by years of diabetes. He hopes it will help him sleep better and reduce his chronic pain.
“People in worse shape than I am have been helped,” he says with confidence.
“I’ve been beaten-up pretty bad over the years,” he acknowledges softly. “But I keep coming back kicking. It’s hard to keep a good man down.”
Smiling at his joke, Gary is quick to thank the people who plan to support his fundraiser in November and who have donated to his Go Fund Me page.
“Some people who have contributed to the cause are in worse shape than I am,” he says kindly. “I’m very grateful for the friends and fellow musicians who are helping me with this whole process. I have an attitude of gratitude.”