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Northern Ontario man with ALS takes part in 'amazing' deer hunt

Manitoulin Island filmmaker and hunter Neil Debassige recently took part in what he calls a filming experience of a lifetime. Debassige got the chance to document a special hunting trip with a man from Dubreuilville in northern Ontario. But the catch was, the man was living with ALS.

Eddy Lefrancois has been living with ALS for 25 years — and he continues to whittle down his bucket list

It was a hunting trip that won't soon be forgotten.

Manitoulin Island filmmaker and hunter Neil Debassige recently took part in what he calls a filming experience of a lifetime. Debassige got the chance to document a special hunting trip with a man from Dubreuilville.

But the catch was, the man was living with ALS.

Eddy LeFrancois has been living with the disease for the last 25 years. He can't move or speak without assistance. But that hasn't stopped him from scratching items off of his bucket list — and hunting for white tail deer was one of them.

Debassige, owner of Fuel the Fire TV — which airs on Wild TV on Canada's Outdoor Network — was asked to document that experience.

He spoke with CBC Up North host Jason Turnbull about the hunt, which took place in October.

We speak with a Manitoulin Island filmmaker who took part in documenting a bucket-list hunt for a white tail deer. There was a twist though ... the hunt was with a man who's been living with ALS for the last 25 years. 7:54

"I really wasn't sure what to expect," Debassige said.

"I visited his website and got to know him better ... I chatted with him a few times and he basically gave me the understanding of what he was up against. And that was, basically, being incapacitated in a a wheelchair completely. You can make out what he's saying ... it takes some getting used to. But as soon as you get the hang of it you see he is very articulate and sharp as a tack."

Eddy LeFrancois gets some assistance as he learns to use an adapted bow, prior to taking part in his bucket-list hunt for white tail deer on Manitoulin Island. Filmmaker Neil Debassige captured the hunt adventure. It will air on Wild TV in January of 2018. (Pat Dubreuil/Facebook)

ALS and the feeling of being 'buried alive'

Debassige says LeFrancois is one of the most special individuals he has ever met, "as far as his sheer determination and will to overcome the odds."

In a message to CBC News, LeFrancois says he takes on the bucket list adventures to bring awareness to ALS.

"I won't stop until the whole world knows about ALS, until the world knows how terrible of a disease it is. In the end I can do everything, I just do it differently! I'm very lucky to still be alive 25-plus years after diagnosis."

Eighty per cent of people with ALS die within two to five years of diagnosis, LeFrancois says. And between five and 10 per cent may live 10 years after diagnosis, while others live only a few month.

He describes the condition as as a feeling like "a shovel of sand is being dumped on me every day, making it more and more difficult to move my legs, arms, eat, breathe, speak … I'm being buried alive, and I'm conscious of what is happening. ALS affects the voluntary movements but your head is intact."

Filmmaker Neil Debassige sets his drone in motion outside the hunting blind that was custom-made for Eddy LeFrancois. (Pat Dubreuil/Facebook)

Adapting to the hunt

The hunting trip was a chance for LeFrancois to forget that feeling — if only for a couple of days.

Debassige says LeFrancois was exposed to the entire hunt camp experience, complete with a custom-build hunting blind. His hunting bow was also adapted, so all he had to do was blow into a tube to engage the trigger.

"The first night we missed twice, then we made some corrections," Debassige recalled.

"And then on the second night, the last night of the hunt, we took [a young buck] down."

And all the while, Debassige had his cameras rolling and his microphones on.

Working with Debassige was "amazing," LeFrancois said.

"Neil is a real professional. This does not happen to me often, but I forgot I had ALS for two days. It speaks volume about this experience."

Once filming got underway, space was tight in the custom-built hunting blind. (Pat Dubreuil/Facebook)

'No excuses'

Debassige says the experience was about inspiration.

"Sure, there was the hunt, and there was Eddy harvesting a deer. But, it was the sheer determination and positive attitude that he demonstrated that moved me and inspired me to not make any excuses," he said.

"We try and inspire people through the television program to get outdoors. It was ironic that he was doing that to inspire me even moreso to do that."

Eddy LeFrancois' hunting experience is due to air in January of next year, on Wild TV, on Canada's Outdoor Network.

You can learn more about Fuel the Fire TV here. And you can learn more about Eddy Lefrancois' ALS awareness campaign here.

Eddy LeFrancois, at right, poses for a picture with the rest of the hunting crew. They managed to shoot two deer during their bow hunt on Manitoulin Island, at the end of October. (Pat Dubreuil/Facebook)

About the Author

Wendy Bird

CBC Sudbury

Wendy Bird is a journalist based in Sudbury, who specializes in topics of concern to northern Ontario. Reach her at wendy.bird@cbc.ca, and on Twitter @bendyword.

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