Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Family hoping for a sweet homecoming

Son now able to return to Winnipeg after health crises

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Six years ago, David and Jasmina Forest moved to Toronto with heavy hearts. They left behind their cosy south St. Vital home, their family and close friends.

They went because their first-born, Sébastien, was born critically ill and needed the life-saving efforts of doctors at the Hospital for Sick Children.

Now the family is finally coming home. Sébastien is a fairly healthy seven-year-old, sister Geneviève an active two-year-old and there's another baby due in August.

Their friends decided to fix up the 700-square-foot house and make it ready for an expanding family and a little boy with a compromised immune system. Naturally enough, there's a Facebook page (TheWelcomeHomeProject) to document their efforts.

The average home-repair project wouldn't get a mention here. But the story of what the Forest family has endured is gripping.

Sébastien was born in 2003. His parents were warned he'd have a small, manageable birth defect. Instead, his mother underwent an emergency caesarean and the newborn went straight into an ER. He survived, but most of his intestine was removed. He was fitted with an ostomy device to remove his body's waste.

Jacinta Palud is Sébastien's godmother. She and her husband are close friends of the Forest family.

She explains one necessary medical procedure in turn destroyed the baby's liver. Life revolved around the hospital. Just before Sébastien turned three, the family learned there were a liver and a bowel available for transplant. His life was saved.

"Before the transplant, he was at the hospital a lot. He was bleeding very easily because of his liver failure. You had to hold him on a pillow. He couldn't cry because that would cause bleeding. You couldn't fall asleep when you were holding him."

Jasmina moved to Toronto and her husband flew back and forth. He tried to maintain his Corydon-area hairdressing business but it was tough going.

Eventually, they rented an apartment in Toronto.

"He came close to dying twice. One time he had a brain bleed," says Palud. That was in 2007.

The little boy required chemotherapy after complications following the transplants. He will always be immunosuppressed.

In 2011, Sébastien underwent a kidney transplant. The morphine used after his liver-bowel transplant damaged his kidneys. He had his ostomy reversed at the same time.

The family lived on savings, support from family, a grant that paid their mortgage for two years and medical support from the Ontario government. David Forest also started up his hairdressing business in Toronto.

They have always wanted to return home but needed to secure a medical team able to take care of Sébastien's ongoing health-care needs. That's been done.

And this is where the Welcome Home Project comes in. The small home was rented while they were away. It needs a good indoor and outdoor painting, thorough cleaning and grout replacement in both bathrooms. Their friends want to knock out a wall between the kitchen and living room, replace the basement carpets and linoleum, renovate the stairs so the sight-impaired Sébastien can manage them, and build a deck. They'd like to replace the kitchen countertops and add counter space.

"The bathtub surrounds need to be replaced. They can't have any mould in the house," says Palud.

Why does any of this concern you? Because the friends are hoping to attract donations. They've already raised $2,300 to pay for repairs. Floform Countertops has offered to help. They think they could complete the first phase of the work for about $6,000.

The next phase, the deck, would be more.

I asked Palud if these weren't wants instead of needs. Why should strangers care? What the Forest parents wanted most of all was to have their son live and he has, she said. Now their friends want them to walk through the door of their home on June 25 and be overwhelmed by the kindness of others.

If you're interested, head to the Facebook page. The family needs a break. I want to see if we can help them.

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 4, 2012 A6

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About Lindor Reynolds

National Newspaper Award winner Lindor Reynolds began work at the Free Press as a 17-year-old proofreader. It was a rough introduction to the news business.

Many years later, armed with a university education and a portfolio of published work, she was hired as a Free Press columnist. During her 20-plus years on the job she has written for every section in the paper, with the exception of Business. She’ll get around to them some day.

Lindor has received considerable recognition for her writing. Her awards include the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ general interest award and the North American Travel Journalists Association top prize.
Her work on Internet luring led to an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada and her coverage of the child welfare system prompted a change to Manitoba Child and Family Services Act to make the safety of children paramount.

She has earned three citations of merit for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism and has been awarded a Distinguished Alumni commendation from the University of Winnipeg. Lindor was also named a YMCA/YWCA  Woman of Distinction.

She is married with four daughters. If her house was on fire and the kids and dog were safe, she’d grab her passport.
 
lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

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