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1995: BQ leader Lucien Bouchard returns to work after losing leg

The Story

It was news that shocked both English and French Canadians in the winter of 1994. Lucien Bouchard, the charismatic leader of the Bloc Québécois, was forced to have his leg amputated after contracting a case of flesh-eating disease. Now after nearly three months of recuperation, Bouchard returns to Ottawa where he receives emotional welcomes from even his most fervent opponents. This clip from CBC Television covers his triumphant and touching return to national politics.

Medium: Television
Program: Prime Time News
Broadcast Date: Feb. 22, 1995
Guest(s): Lucien Bouchard, Jean Chrétien, Preston Manning
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Jason Moscovitz
Duration: 2:50

Did You know?

• Lucien Bouchard's ordeal began on Nov. 29, 1994, when he entered Montreal's St. Luc Hospital complaining of a lingering flu bug. Doctors discovered and began treating a blood clot in his left leg when it became infected with the so-called flesh-eating disease.

• Two days later, surgeons were forced to amputate the 55-year-old's leg to help stop the spread of the potentially fatal disease. When news of his life-and-death struggle broke shortly after, politicians of all political stripes rallied around the separatist leader.

• Necrotizing fasciitis, or flesh-eating disease, is a very rare and potentially deadly infection that targets the fascia, the deepest layer of skin tissue that surrounds the body's muscles. Once it takes hold, the disease is relentless, killing tissue at the rate of 2.5 centimetres an hour. It can lead to death in as little as 12 hours.

• The disease can be caused by a number of different bacteria including Group A streptococcus, which is also responsible for strep throat, scarlet fever and rheumatic fever. In rare cases, a Group A streptococcus infection can cause pneumonia and blood poisoning along with flesh-eating disease.

• Health Canada estimates that there are 90 and 200 cases of necrotizing fasciitis in Canada annually, with 20 to 30 per cent resulting in death. Symptoms of flesh-eating disease include a high fever and a severe, painful swelling that spreads rapidly. There is no vaccine for necrotizing fasciitis. Treatment usually involves antibiotics to stave off the infection and surgery to remove the contaminated tissue.

• In Bouchard's case, surgeons had to perform two operations to stop the spread of his infection; one to remove his foot and another to remove the rest of his leg to mid-thigh. In the 24 hours after the operation doctors reported that he would to make a full recovery.

• In the Globe and Mail on Dec. 3, his doctor recounted Bouchard's reaction to the drastic news. "He seemed stunned for a few seconds, and after that he and his wife mentioned to me that his life was more important than his leg."

• Parti Québécois leader Jacques Parizeau expressed his concern for his colleague in a Globe and Mail article. "Show the same courage that you've so often shown in the past. And I hope that soon it will just have been a very bad dream. Hang on, old friend."

• Prime minister Jean Chrétien, in Paris for an AIDS summit, said: "At moments like this we put political differences aside to express our personal solidarity with the suffering of a fellow human being."

• Bouchard received a warm welcome upon his Feb. 22, 1995, return to Parliament. Reform Party leader Preston Manning paid tribute to him by delivering his first completely French address in the House of Commons. But Bouchard's triumphant return was marred by a media backlash. Many reporters accused the leader of "stage-managing" his return and attempting to coerce them into getting preferential coverage.

• In the week before his return, stories appeared in La Presse and Southam News that charged Bouchard with "media manipulation" in trying to orchestrate his political homecoming. As can be seen in this clip, he responded to questions about the media backlash by accepting full responsibility. He added: "The next time I come back after having been close to [death], I will do it differently."


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