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Q & A with RHI Board Member, Kevin Lamarque

Kevin Lamarque (BA (Hons), MA) is a new member of the RHI Board of Directors, and was recently recognised as a “Difference-maker” in his home community of Halifax.  Kevin carried a commemorative medallion in the Rick Hansen Man In Motion 25th Anniversary Relay (www.rickhansenrelay.com) joining 7000 other difference-makers as they travel across Canada.  Kevin is Chair of Canadian Paraplegic Association (CPA) Nova Scotia, and former Director of the Department of Canadian Heritage in Nova Scotia.  Kevin also has a spinal cord injury.

RHI: Can you tell us about your SCI?

Kevin Lamarque with Molly the cocker spaniel participates in the Rick Hansen Relay in Nova Scotia.

Kevin Lamarque: Sure, I had an accident when I was 18.  I went over a cliff on a toboggan (I didn’t know the cliff was there) as a result I became paralyzed with a spinal cord injury at the L1-L2 level.  The cord was not severed, but severely bruised, (so I was told) which means that I have some sensation and movement – but not enough to be functional.

As well, due to the nature of the injury over the years I have developed a serious condition of chronic pain.  It is episodic: it comes and goes, not always for any apparent reason.  However, I have had to retire from my work early because of it.  This, of course, has caused financial challenges which results directly from the secondary complications of my injury.  Thus, I come to the [RHI] Board with a sense of “enlightened self-interest” hoping that RHI will not forget about research into the causes and cures of my type of chronic pain.

RHI:  We’re told you have a daughter – can you tell us a bit about family life with a SCI?

KL: I suppose you should really ask Mhari that question.  She is the “apple of my eye” and we are very close.  She is now an adult, but as a child life was “interesting”.   I realized that I could not always pull my weight, but tried to do as best as I could.  At that time, there were very few SCI persons with families and we had nowhere to go for information or advice.

For example, I had difficulties lifting Mhari onto my lap when she was young and I remember that my spouse of the time made me a cloth strap to wrap around both Mhari and me so she would not fall off when I was wheeling.

She is currently at university, but lives very nearby.  These days, we usually go for picnics or walk in the park and talk our heads off.

RHI: Now that you’re retired, what do you do in your spare time?

KL: This has been one of the biggest challenges of my retirement!  When one works, the day is structured, but now that I’m retired, I have to structure my day myself.  So, I have decided to return to school.  I am currently enrolled at King’s College, Dalhousie and I‘m taking (auditing) one course –“The History of Science”.  I always said that once I retired I would go back to university and “do it right” – that is, read the books and attend the lectures, rather than skip off to the campus pub and skim the books or get by with by with “Coles Notes”.

As well as RHI, I am also currently the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Canadian Paraplegic Association (Nova Scotia Division)

I read voraciously and try to maintain some semblance of fitness by going to the gym, 2-3 times per week.

So, I do keep busy, although not always productive!


RHI: Why did you join the RHI Board?

KL: I believe in the goals and objective of RHI.  I also want to be sure that the voices of persons who are actually disabled be heard at the Board table.

RHI: How would you describe RHI’s role in its relatively short history?

KL: I think the RHI is a facilitator and incubator of research and innovation to enhance the lives of persons with spinal cord injuries.

RHI: What impact has Rick Hansen had on SCI research and care in Canada?

KL: Rick Hansen’s impact on SCI research in Canada is immeasurable.  In 25 years, he has changed the face of research into “the cure”.  But also, the funds he has raised have helped to mitigate the impacts of “secondary complications” resulting from SCI that can affect the quality of life of the disabled person, often more than the actual injury or disease.

RHI: What’s the future of SCI research and care?

KL: I don’t really feel qualified to respond to this question.  I am not a scientist or a researcher.  I do hope that research and care will focus on the “secondary complications” of SCI, as well as the continuous search for “the cure”.  The impacts of chronic pain, bladder/bowel disorders or pressure sores to name but a few of the problems, can cause persons with SCI to lose their economic independence and their sense of well-being as much as the injury itself.

We are still in the infancy of research into SCI.  Don’t forget that before penicillin, some 60-odd years ago, spinal cord injury was a death sentence.  And only in my lifetime have persons with SCI come out into society as full citizens, rather than victims to be pitied and put away in institutions or back rooms.  And really, only since people like Rick Hansen and Christopher Reeve have put SCI on the map with the funds that they raised, has research into SCI taken off.  Where it will go, I cannot say but I do know that there is much left to do!

I am very honoured, as a Board member, to be a part of the Rick Hansen Institute.  It came home to me as I participated in the relay how much I value the work of the staff and researchers and how much I appreciated everybody’s efforts.  I only hope that my contribution as a Board member will measure up to that of all those dedicated people.

PHOTO –Lamarque with Ginette Thibault-Halman, RHSCIR site coordinator and Research Coordinator in the Division of Neurotrauma at Dalhousie/NS Rehab after their turn as medal bearers in the relay.