The local business community has rallied around the efforts of a wheelchair-bound Kelowna man to pay for the stem cell treatments that might allow him to walk again.
A fundraiser was held June 8 at Ex Nihilo Vineyards for Blake Harper that raised $32,000, enough to enable him to travel to New Dehli, India, and undergo a third round of the treatments.
Darryl Reuter, a Kelowna realtor who organized the fundraiser, said Harper’s story pulled a lot of people’s heart strings in the community, and they responded in kind at the fundraiser.
Norelco Cabinets held their twice-yearly auction of leftover cabinets, doors and other items on June 1—with the support of neighbouring Bonanza Meat Packer, who hosted a parking lot BBQ the day of the sale—and raised $2,000 to assist Harper.
“This is something we do twice a year and we try to give the proceeds to a different charity each time,” said Cory Anthony, business development manager for Norelco.
Anthony said Harper’s story and the idea of helping an individual overcome a health adversity in their community made it an easy thing to support.
Harper, now 40 years of age, was involved in a snowmobiling accident at the Greystokes area in March 2002 that resulted in him suffering a broken neck, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.
In the wake of the accident, Harper resigned himself to the reality he would be stuck in a wheelchair, but didn’t let his disability break his spirit.
Harper started to push himself to swim across Okanagan Lake, began entering powerlifting competitions, competed for Canada at the Pan Pacific Paralympics and became the first paraplegic in North America to be certified as a diving instructor.
He has also tackled wake boarding, mountain biking riding a specially modified hand-cycle and downhill skiing.
With the advent of the possibilities offered through stem cell research, Harper found a doctor in India that was having some success with paralyzed patients using this form of treatment.
In January 2012, Harper went to India for nine weeks to begin receiving the treatments, which aren’t covered by medical coverage. Within three weeks, Harper began to move his right leg and 10 days later saw movement in his left leg.
In October of that year, Harper returned for another round of treatments, which included a rigorous daily round of physical therapy.
Harper says today his ultimate goal is to be able to walk again, but for now “I just want to keep up the treatments and see how far I can go in the recovery.”