$40K needed to retrofit Fort McMurray home for teen in wheelchair

Drake Patenaude hasn't seen some parts of his home for almost a year.

Family has turned to online fundraising as last resort to help their son

Drake's dad and his uncle must carefully lower his wheel chair down the stairs. (David Thurton/ CBC)

Drake Patenaude hasn't seen some parts of his home for almost a year.

Patenaude is a 15-year-old boy who used to hang out with his sister in the basement of their family home, go to sleepovers and regularly attend school. But complications caused by his muscular dystrophy mean the first floor of the family home has now become like a prison.

His parents are raising money to help pay the cost of making their house more accessible to their son.

Retrofits are needed after a minor fall in November 2016 hastened the inevitable for Patenaude and others who live with the genetic muscle-wasting condition — life in a wheelchair.

Someone might get hurt

After the fall, Patenaude could no longer walk, much less climb the stairs at the front door. He can only get inside or leave if two people carefully roll his wheelchair up or down each step.

The family worries it's not safe but said they have no other choice.

"There's no way I can do it," Patenaude's mom Tracy said. "Even for [my husband] it is dangerous — like if his back goes, then they both go down the stairs."

The Patenaudes talk to CBC News on Tuesday from their home in the Fort McMurray subdivision of Abasand. (David Thurton/ CBC)

The morning ritual of getting him out of the house was so risky, Patenaude's high school told his parents not to send him to school anymore. A home tutor was assigned instead.

Patenaude is back at school. But his uncle and dad must carefully roll the wheelchair and the 140-pound teenager slowly down the stairs and then transfer him to his power scooter in the garage.

The Patenaudes have turned to social media to ask people to donate to their GoFundMe page.

Donations needed

They've asked the government and other aid agencies for help, but because Patenaude's dad earns more than $45,000 a year from his oilsands job, the family doesn't qualify for most grants.

Families with incomes above the Canadian average usually don't qualify for assistance, said Tracy Ryan, director of advocacy and partnerships with Muscular Dystrophy Canada.

Yet these families often need to retrofit their homes and pay for power chairs and lifts for the home, said Ryan.

"[Families] might seem, based on the national average, to be quite well off, but when you consider they are not eligible for the supports and services available," Ryan said. "Then they are on their own."

Drake Patenaude, who uses a wheelchair, sits on the first floor of his house most days. (David Thurton/ CBC)

Muscular Dystrophy Canada, which raises money for those in need, has given the family a $17,000 grant, the Patenaudes said.

The family hopes to raise another $40,000 for an accessible bathroom offering easy access to a shower and sink that's the right height for their son, and an elevator that allows him to access every floor of the house.

Follow David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitter and email him at david.thurton@cbc.ca 


David Thurton

Senior reporter, Parliamentary Correspondent

David Thurton is a senior reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He covers daily politics in the nation’s capital and specializes in environment and energy policy. Born in Canada but raised in Trinidad and Tobago, he’s moved around more times than he can count. He’s worked for CBC in several provinces and territories, including Alberta and the Northwest Territories.