Drew Cumpson seeking independence

Written by  Thursday, 10 July 2014 08:50
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Drew Cumpson Drew Cumpson

$35,000 for pulmonary pacemaker, Drew Cumpson soldiers on.

The 23-year-old, whose story is familiar to News readers, has been living in St. Mary's Hospital in Kingston and attending Guelph University through correspondence.

However, now he has a chance to move back home. That's where we come in.

A little over three years ago, on the last day of a 12-day voluntary labour trip to Peru with 11 other Guelph students, he was swimming in the ocean when a massive undertow sent him crashing to the ocean floor, breaking his neck and leaving him a quadriplegic.

Community support kicked in from Godfrey, where the Cumpson family lived, as well as from the Sydenham High School and Guelph University communities. For the next year, medical complication after medical complication added further stress to Drew and his family, who were also preparing to sell their house on Bobs Lake and build a fully accessible house close to Kingston because of the medical care that Drew requires.

Through all of this, Drew’s parents Jim and Heather worked tirelessly on his behalf, with Heather acting as a bulwark against a sometimes-intractable medical system, and Jim building the new house. Drew's health stabilized, he stopped having infections, and his body healed.

The house was completed in May of 2013, but by then Heather was herself very sick with cancer. She died a year ago this week at the same hospital where Drew is living.

“I would be dead now without the things she did in the first year after my accident. I learned from her that you need to take control over your situation, that you need to be clear about what you need and you need to be informed, and you need to turn a no into a yes sometimes,” he said.

It is in that spirit that Drew has carried on in his struggle for independence, and the next goal in front of him is to breathe on his own.

“Right now I am not eligible for enough home nursing care to leave the hospital so I have to stay here,” he said from his room at St. Mary's early this week.

However there is a solution. A diaphragmatic pacemaker has been successfully used on patients in Drew's condition. It works on the lungs the way a pacemaker works on the heart, sending an electrical signal to stimulate breathing. It can cut down or eliminate the need for a ventilator entirely. The procedure to implant the device has been approved in Canada, and with the help of his doctor at St. Mary's, Drew has a surgical team lined up to do the operation in Toronto. The only problem is that, while the surgery will be covered by OHIP, the device will not be paid for. It costs $35,000.

A few weeks ago Drew started up a fundraising campaign on the website Indiegogo to raise that money. He has raised $7,000 since June 27, and he called the News this week to help get the word out about it. A benefit concert at the Grand Theatre in Kingston is being contemplated for the fall, but the Indiegogo campaign runs until August 27. The Indiegogo posting includes a 6-minute documentary about Drew and some further information. It can be accessed by going to Indiegogo.com and searching "Help Drew Breathe" or by pasting the following in: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/help-drew-breathe

In the meantime Drew is not waiting. He is initiating the surgery regardless; trusting that he can find the money for the device by the time the surgery is scheduled. At the same time, he continues to take courses at Guelph though correspondence. He expects to obtain his degree in the Tourism and Hospitality Program in 2016 and hopes to start working after that, likely specializing in the accessibility aspects of the industry.

“Eventually I want to open a bar and restaurant in Kingston some day, a southern, Cajun-themed place.”

You can almost taste the Filé Gumbo already.

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