By Susan Clairmont (The Hamilton Specator)
They just keep going.
They pull one another up. Dust each other off. Give thanks for what they have and get on with it.
They did it two years ago when 17-year-old Ryan had a rare spinal stroke at the gym. He became a quadriplegic.
They did it six months ago when Ryan's mom was diagnosed with leukemia.
They did it six weeks ago when Ryan's grandfather died of cancer, just before Ryan was to finally — finally — come home for the first time since he has been in a wheelchair.
They have done it a thousand times in between, as they cope and survive and carry on.
This is a family that believes there is strength in numbers. That laughs through its pain. That vows to stick together, quite possibly for the rest of their lives.
I have introduced you to Ryan Joslin before. A quarterback and scholar who was stretching before his workout and felt a pop in his neck. Ninety minutes later he couldn't move below his shoulders. His lungs shut down. The blood flow to his spine was interrupted.
That was June 30, 2011.
Ryan spent two months in intensive care at McMaster hospital then transferred to Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital in Toronto.
He stayed there nearly two years, in part because he continued to show improvements. But mostly, because he had nowhere else to go. His house wasn't accessible.
"There was no home to bring him to," says Laurie, Ryan's mom.
Ryan rarely ventured out of hospital. He came to Hamilton for a few hours last June to watch his St. Jean de Brébeuf classmates graduate. Getting him here and back was exhausting, logistically challenging and nerve-wracking.
While in town that day, his family drove Ryan to their home so he could see it from his wheelchair parked outside
"I'd dreamed about it so much," he says.
Meanwhile, Ryan's parents Laurie and Scott and younger brother Zachary, grandparents John and Ann and his uncle Richard and aunt Cathy sold their houses, pooled their funds and prepared to build a state-of-the-art, fully accessible home they could all live in.
It would sit on a large chunk of rural property on east Stoney Creek Mountain owned by John and Ann. They would build right next to their small, existing home.
Builders Chip and Danielle Mulas, of Mulas Custom Homes, broke ground in late September and worked seven days a week on their 6,000-square-foot, two-level, fully accessible masterpiece. The Mulas pushed hard because the sooner the house was ready, the sooner Ryan could come home.
All the while Laurie, 50, was pushing herself to the breaking point. Working full time as a secretary for a neurologist, running in and out of Toronto to see Ryan ...
January 25 she hit the wall.
"I was just exhausted," she recalls. "I thought it was just the stress."
But there were bruises on her legs. Scott took her to the ER. In a few hours they had a diagnosis.
Laurie was in hospital for five weeks, undergoing blood transfusions and chemo.
As she went into remission, her father became ill.
In the spring, the family drove Ryan home to say goodbye to his grandfather. Ryan parked his wheelchair outside John's bedroom window — a stone's throw from the nearly finished home next door — and waved to him in his bed.
John was too ill to come outside. Ryan's chair couldn't get inside.
John died in his sleep on Ann's birthday in April. They had been married nearly 60 years.
"I wanted him to see Ryan come home, but he didn't make it," weeps Ann.
All the while, the new house rose, helped along by countless gifts of labour and materials, including hardwood floor donated by GoodLife Fitness (Ryan's gym), and drywall from Claire Interior Supplies, owned by relatives of Mark Daly, the principal at Brébeuf.
Slowed by the cold winter and soggy spring, there was a gap between Laurie, Scott and Zachary, 15, selling their house and the new home being ready.
Danielle came to the rescue. She is the daughter of Peter Mercanti, owner of Carmen's. He invited the Joslins to live at their C Hotel for two months, free of charge.
The new house welcomed Ryan home on May 22. When his electric chair wheeled through the front door it was the first time the now 19-year-old had been inside a house — any house — since his stroke.
"It was unbelievable," says Ryan, grinning widely.
The homecoming was bittersweet. Ryan was leaving hospital staff and patients who had seen him through two tough years. Now he would be with his family night and day. They tend, he says carefully, "to smother me with love."
The house is designed with three separate living quarters for Ryan's family, his grandmother and his aunt and uncle. They eat supper together, which Ann prepares.
Cathy, who went from having no children to living with two teens, says: "We were always a close family, and our faith sustains us.
"Slowly, people are regaining their strength."
The house has everything Ryan will need. An elevator gets him to the basement and second storey. There is space in the garage for his wheelchair van and a therapy pool. Light switches are at wheelchair level in the hope Ryan will use his arms again. His bedroom and bath include a lift and accessible shower. There is a home theatre where he can hang out with friends. And a generator, to ensure power for critical equipment.
Ryan goes to Hamilton General Hospital three times a week for physio. Nurses and personal aid workers come to the home to provide care.
In the fall, he is going back to Brébeuf to finish high school. He intends to be a teacher.
The family is so focused on getting through each day they have difficulty imagining the luxury of a day to themselves. A perfect day. What would they do with it?
"I'd like to just stay in bed one whole day," says Richard, who oversaw every detail of the new home's construction.
Cathy wishes for a day in Niagara-on-the-Lake to celebrate her upcoming birthday.
Ann tears up, thinking of her husband. "Things were perfect," she says. "But not any more."
Zachary would like a day to play hockey, football and basketball.
Scott, an educational assistant, longs to visit the family cottage in Huntsville. But it is a place Ryan can no longer enjoy.
Laurie wants to finally soak in her big, new tub, something she cannot do until her chemo picc line is removed.
"I just want a normal day," he says, knowing that is the most elusive dream of all.
905-526-3539 | @susanclairmont
The trades and suppliers who donated time and services to Mulas Custom Homes for the construction of Ryan Joslin's home.
Wendy Edwards from Edwards Designs.
Brothers Electrical Services
BAMCO Custom Wood Working
Remo Santini Railings
John's Fine Line Painting and Renovations/Maximum Painting
KB Garage Doors
Patene Building Services
Louie and Mike Mastrangelo
ERA Construction INC
Morris /Electrical Authority
Rennie Heating & Air
Waste to Go
John Dicosmo at Dulux Paints
V& D Santucci
Good Life Fitness
The Charity of Hope
Carmen's & The C Hotel