Community support for Kennedy, isolated crew truly inspiring

The Strait area really stepped up recently to help people in need.

On April 10, John-Michael Kennedy finally got the shopping spree he always wanted. The 18-year-old Port Hawkesbury resident, who has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, was granted the special wish by the Children’s Wish Foundation.

According to his father, John-Michael was first diagnosed between the ages of 18 and 22 months, and was then placed under the care of the IWK Health Centre, with the “muscle-tissue-eating-style disease” that can cripple the lower abdominal area. There are nine forms of Muscular Dystrophy and John-Michael has the more severe form.

His father said, right now, John-Michael’s range of motion is depleting and feeding is a struggle.

John recalled that over the years, mobility and accessibility have proven constant challenges, but the family was lucky to receive help from groups like Easter Seals, people like Shane MacDougall who donated a 2007 Chevy Uplander two years ago, and businesses like the Medicine Shoppe in Port Hawkesbury.

About five years ago, John Michael was granted a travel wish from Cathy Sutherland, with the Children’s Wish Foundation.

Even though wishes are usually granted to children and his son is now 18, John said the Children’s Wish Foundation waived the age requirement last year, allowing them to plan a trip to Florida, but then the global pandemic hit. Because travelling was impossible, an online shopping spree, valued at $5,000, was approved by the wish foundation.

Unable to go very far, John said he and Sutherland put their heads together, and decided to host the event earlier this month which included a drive-by parade starting at St. Mark’s United Church and ending at the Port Hawkesbury Fire Hall where a drop-off took place.

Sutherland explained that John-Michael made a list of items he wants, and those items, as well as others, were handed out to the public by the Children’s Wish Foundation to give to this special young man.

In addition to the volunteer fire department, the event was well attended by residents within and outside the town, local groups, Strait area businesses, as well as Emergency Health Services, Port Hawkesbury RCMP, Port Hawkesbury Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton, and Town Councillor Mark MacIver, who is a neighbour and friend of the Kennedys.

Among the items John-Michael received was a 72-inch TV with a stereo system, a new computer, and material for his upcoming graduation from SAERC, John said.

Then after an oil tanker remained anchored in the Strait of Canso, local residents, groups and businesses wanted to show the isolating crew they care, so on April 20, a care package was delivered to the crew.

The San Telmo left Antwerp, Belgium on March bound for Montreal. Karl Risser, Atlantic inspector for the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), said they received a complaint from a daughter of the one the seafarers that he left home with a negative COVID-19 test, then tested positive after a crew change in Antwerp.

When the man entered Canadian waters, Risser said public health officials removed him from the vessel, tested him, confirmed that he did have COVID-19 then sent him to isolate at a hotel in Sydney. After the positive test was confirmed, Risser said a Canadian Coast Guard cutter evacuated the ship.

André Gagnon, media relations advisor with the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), told The Reporter they were notified of the ill crew member on April 9. He said PHAC Quarantine Officers are monitoring the situation and receiving daily updates about the crew’s health status.

Pat Adamson, spokesperson for the vessel owner, Scorpio Tankers International (STI), told The Reporter that on April 11, the oil tanker San Telmo stopped in the Strait Canso. Adamson said the 183-metre-long, 32-metre-wide vessel is currently anchored in Inhabitants Bay off Port Malcolm.

Noting that the vessel move won’t move until local authorities, Transport Canada, and the health agency are satisfied that the situation is okay, Adamson told The Reporter there were 20 seafarers still on board. He said there were seven positive tests for COVID-19 on board, nine negative, and four were deemed inconclusive.

Risser said the remaining crew members are dealing with the situation as best they can. He said he remains in contact with the daughter of the sick crew member. Until they are given the greenlight to leave, Risser said he and others will also keep an eye on the situation, and he is hoping officials are able to contain it.

Adamson said the company is following a “strenuous” COVID-19 management plan which involves regular testing, isolation and constant sanitation.

Cybelle Morin, spokesperson for Transport Canada told The Reporter that the federal department is working with the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Canada Border Services Agency, the shipping company and other federal, provincial, and local partners.

To help out, a community collection took place at Tri-Mac Toyota until April 15, which included: water bottles; clothes such as scarves, hats, t-shirts and shirts; food like candy, honey, cookies, donuts, and scallops; tools like flashlights and batters; and swag like sport bags, pens, notebooks, booklets, CDs, coasters, key chains, notebooks, and bumper stickers.

Although he knew the seafarers were being fed and taken care of, Port Hawkesbury resident John Ouellette said he wanted to do something to lift their spirits so he reached out to Larry MacKeigan who collected the donations and pilot Iaian Langley who dropped off the donations.

Ouellette said they received the approval of Canada Border Services, and involved the shipping agent before delivering the goods.

He said some of the best donations were from residents who’ve made more than a few long trips at sea and understand what it’s like. He said there are also many local families who understand what working away really means.

These two events demonstrate how generous, kind, considerate, and caring the communities of the Strait region truly are.

In both cases, municipalities, people, businesses and groups felt responsible to step up, organize, help out, and offer any support they can.

Although the circumstances are very much different between a teenager with a serious disease and an isolated crew, the community response was very much the same.

At no time was there any hesitation to offer a helping hand, and in fact, there was so much help, it was an embarrassment of riches.

This is what makes the Strait area such a desired place to live, and why those who live here, and are from here, are so proud to call it home.