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Paralyzed paramedic inspires can-do project

Woman hopes to purchase wheelchair for stranger

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Students from Ms. Pawluk's Grade 8 class at Dr. George Johnson School in Gimli have joined  the Tabs for Alex program and are challenging other classes at their school to collect the most cans.

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Students from Ms. Pawluk's Grade 8 class at Dr. George Johnson School in Gimli have joined the Tabs for Alex program and are challenging other classes at their school to collect the most cans.

Connie Licoppe hasn't met Alex Petric but she knows his story and that's been enough to mobilize the Matlock mom on a mission.

Licoppe recently began the Tabs for Alex campaign, collecting aluminum tabs from cans with the goal of purchasing a wheelchair for Petric, a Winnipeg paramedic paralyzed from the ribs down on March 4. Petric was on vacation in Panama with his girlfriend, Meagan Minaker, when he dove into what he thought was deep water.

Petric is currently at a spinal cord injury recovery centre in California, where he is involved in a rehabilitation program with the goal of regaining the ability to walk.

"I've been collecting tabs for years and wondering what to do with them. When I heard Alex's story, I knew: That's where I'm going with this," said Licoppe, who started the Tabs for Alex project last month.

"I was in a car accident last year and paramedics helped me at the scene. I was taken to the hospital by ambulance. When I heard Alex's story, I thought of how he was a paramedic just like the ones who helped me. Maybe it's kind of a pay-it-forward sort of thing, but I just wanted to do something for this young man."

She has already rallied a small army of volunteers to collect tabs and pick them up from various locations. She has contacted several facilities in Winnipeg that have large volumes of cans to ask to donate them to the project.

Licoppe said tabs are worth more because of their higher-grade aluminum content but she will gladly accept cans as well.

The St. Boniface Bag Company gave her 100 bags to hold the cans and InterCity Autobody is providing her with storage space for everything she collects.

So how does a tab turn into a wheelchair?

Licoppe said Winnipeg's Western Scrap Metals Inc. will buy the metal at 50 cents per pound for tabs and 45 cents per pound for cans. It will take about 8,000 pounds of aluminum tabs to get $4,000, the estimated cost of a wheelchair for Petric. The exact amount needed won't be known until the specific type of wheelchair required by Petric is determined, based on his rehabilitation.

"Trying to do something to help him has been helping me," said Licoppe, who is on medical leave from her job. "Helping someone else has made me forget about my problems and focus on someone with a much bigger challenge."

To donate aluminum tabs or cans, email Tabsforalex@hotmail.ca.

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

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