Edmonton man burned in house fire lost prized bagpipes, other reminders of Nova Scotia roots
'I came into the hospital with just some jeans that were on fire and a shirt'
The scorched clothes on his legs and back were the only things Jeff MacDonald took with him.
A fire last weekend at his north Edmonton home claimed two of his prized bagpipes and many token reminders of his roots in Nova Scotia.
He's still unsure of the full extent of the damage, although it appears his third set of bagpipes may have endured.
Since the fire, he's been confined to a bed in the burn unit at the University of Alberta hospital, where he expects to stay for several more weeks.
His family, near and far, have launched an online campaign to help him recover financially as he recovers from surgery.
"I lost everything. I came into the hospital with just some jeans that were on fire and a shirt," he said in an interview Saturday.
MacDonald was sitting on the couch in his living room late afternoon on May 30 when he noticed flames rising inside the enclosed porch. Overtaken by instinct, MacDonald said he rushed to the garden hose and tried to put out the fire himself.
The next thing he remembers, a neighbour came through the back gate urging him to safety. He only noticed the horrific burns covering his body when he collapsed on the lawn. Strong winds fuelled the fire as it overtook the rest of the home.
MacDonald said he feels lucky to be alive, but it's wrenching to lose the home he worked hard to afford through a warehouse job at Sobeys and now as a supervisor at the Ford distribution centre.
"It's been a house that I never thought I was going to own," he said.
The house was kind of a bittersweet accomplishment after leaving home in Nova Scotia to find work out west, said his aunt, Corrinne MacDonald-Kalakalo.
"It never would come up to what it meant to him to leave Cape Breton but at least he had something to show for it," she said.
Bagpipes and Nova Scotia keepsakes
The 33-year old joined the Cape Breton Highlanders as a cadet back in Nova Scotia where he developed his passion for the bagpipes. When he moved to Edmonton for work, he volunteered with the RCMP Pipes and Drums band, eventually assuming the role of Pipe Major. His home was decorated with keepsakes from the East Coast, from lobster traps to tartan tablecloths.
But he said the most important token of all was a Second World War-era Cape Breton Highlanders hat badge.
"That means a lot to me," he said.
He brought the badge with him to Vimy Ridge during a band performance tour to mark the battle's 100th anniversary.
"Knowing that badge has been worn in these areas and I have it at my house and now it's probably gone ... I'm hoping it's still there," he said.
The past week of his recovery has been excruciatingly painful, MacDonald said. His arms are covered in bandages after two skin graft surgeries in recent days.
"I have more wires on me than I could ever think even a robot could have," he said over the phone, the sound of hospital machines beeping in the background.
His family helped raise nearly $8,000 as of Saturday to help his recovery, with even an RCMP Pipes and Drums band from Montreal donating to the cause.
He said getting back to the bagpipes offers some motivation during the gruelling recovery.
"I've been playing the pipes for over 25 years so I can't see it stopping."