Color & Control:

Touched by the Kindness of Strangers

Winter was always a stressful season for Richard Côté until a host of “angels” arrived at his front door last fall.

Winter was always a stressful season for Richard Côté until a host of “angels” arrived at his front door last fall.

Côté’s son Matthew, 13, could get to school in the morning, snow or no snow, but his daughter, nine-year-old Ava Rose, is wheelchair-bound with cerebral palsy.

For the last four years, the single father relied on a wooden ramp paid for by Quebec’s Programme d’adaptation de domicile (PAD) to wheel his daughter to the front of the house to catch the 7:15 a.m. school bus that would take her from Pierrefonds to the Mackay Centre in N.D.G.

The arrival of snow meant getting up at 5 a.m. to shovel.

“The ramp is efficient in the summer. But in the winter, it gets icy, so we’d end up slip-sliding down the ramp, holding on for dear life,” Côté said. (PAD would not pay for an exterior lift because it was too costly.)

On heavy snow days, Côté would miss work to stay home with Ava Rose because the shovelling was just too much and paying a contractor to shovel by hand was too expensive.

Côté’s already-elevated stress levels would skyrocket on snowy days. His mother Nancy Dillon said the constant stress and unrelenting caregiving have taken a toll on his health, triggering severe migraines and digestive problems.

Côté works in the quality management office at Aimia (formerly Groupe Aeroplan). He said the company has been “amazingly flexible” about his work schedule, but “you can’t help but feel guilty about arriving late to work and leaving early.”

A borough bylaw prevented Côté from building a permanent roof to shield the ramp from the snow and the estimate to have a customized temporary cover fashioned was around $12,000.

Out of the blue, last October, Côté received a call from Ryan Blatt, the vice-president of construction at Canderel. Blatt had heard about Ava Rose from Canderel CEO and chairman Jonathan Wener, who had heard about the situation from one of Côté’s relatives.

Blatt told Côté he was gathering a core group of experts to install an exterior lift — for free. The lift would be installed at the front of the house allowing easy access to the front driveway –which is cleared of snow by a contractor – and the waiting school bus.

Olivier Legault from the firm Béïque. Legault. Thuot Architectes did the drawings and got the necessary permits; Enzo Volpe from Thierry Construction carved the opening in the dining room at the front of the house, poured the concrete base to support the lift and repaired the masonry; SBR Electrical wired the lift and Guiseppe Guilietti, the owner of Construction Adapt-Solutions, supplied and installed the lift. (Guilietti, who is also wheelchair bound, consulted on the project from his hospital bed. An infection landed him in hospital the day before construction was to begin.)

“It makes me feel great,” Guilietti said of the Ava Rose project. “I know what it’s like to be in a wheelchair.”

The lift was completed before the first snowfall.

Blatt said that, to date, seven other contractors have come forward to help cover the costs of the $20,000 project after hearing Ava Rose’s story.

Ava Rose and her twin Elizabeth Grace were born prematurely in November 2006. Elizabeth Grace passed away five weeks later. The doctors informed the parents that Ava Rose had suffered a brain bleed and would probably have severe mental and physical challenges. She was ultimately diagnosed with a form of spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy.

Over the years Dillon, along with other family and friends, raised money for expensive therapies by holding garage sales, organizing corn roasts and selling calendars and chocolates. As a result of various therapies and a team of dedicated therapists, Ava Rose can speak and sing and handles her iPad on her own. She is in Grade 2 at the Mackay Centre.

One little hitch. The lift doesn’t have a roof. To prevent snow accumulation within the confined space, Côté jerry-rigged a cover of sorts, but it bent under the weight of the snow.

Mid-winter, he received another call informing him that the next day a Tempo would be installed the length of the original ramp.

“We give out a lot of large contracts (at Canderel),” Blatt said. “(The work done for Ava Rose) may have been a tiny project, but it had a big impact. It feels good to give back.”

“I’m at a loss for words,” Côté said. “These people were like angels, running around building things. I didn’t do anything. I answered the (original) telephone call and then let them in the front door.”


Feature photo: Richard Côté, pushes his daughter Ava Rose Côté into the exterior elevator of their house on Sunday, April 3, 2016, in Pierrefonds. She was born with brain damage and cerebral palsy. She attends the MacKay Centre, which means getting her wheelchair from the house to the van five times a week all year long. The ramp is fine in good weather, but snow causes problems. Various companies came together and gave materials and their expertise for free, to build her an exterior elevator which allows her to access the van in all types of weather. (Giovanni Capriotti / MONTREAL GAZETTE)

Kathryn Greenaway, Montreal Gazette

Published on: April 6, 2016 | Last Updated: April 6, 2016 10:45 AM EDT

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