When Louis Bourassa was a child, something terrifying happened to him on the family farm in Bromptonville, just north of Sherbrooke.
The year was 1973, and four-year-old Louis, wanting to help out, disobeyed the rules and rode a lawn-mower tractor to cut the grass. He slipped and fell and his right leg was cut off, below the knee.
“The impact was terrible — We had to move from the farm: It was too difficult for my dad,” recalled Bourassa, now 49 and a Montreal resident.
When he turned five, young Louis was fitted with his first artificial limb, paid by Quebec’s RAMQ Medicare agency. He did not realize it at the time, but the artificial limb provided was unsuitable for an active child.
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When he was nine, a Canadian armed forces veteran from War Amps of Canada contacted the family and offered additional help, so the child could grow and thrive, he said. The veteran was in charge of the children’s amputee program.
“Kids love to play, to run, to jump, and the War Amps provided me with a good artificial limb for a nine-year-old, and provided moral support,” he said from the organization’s offices on Cathcart downtown.
While he managed with the inferior equipment, the help he got injected energy and enthusiasm into his life.
“It meant a lot to me to be in a hockey team, a soccer team, to use a bike. Without the artificial limb I got, it would have been impossible. My new artificial limb was a life changer. I was using less energy every time I took a step. I could walk and run faster.
“I was able to play sports with my friends, to have my own circle.” Medicare offered some help with a basic prosthesis, but RAMQ will not pay for an additional component, he said.
“The War Amps paid for the entire limb when I was nine, and growing, and they paid for replacements until I was 18!”
He estimates the value of the help he received back then at “roughly $60,000” in dollars that had greater value than today.
“At that time artificial limbs for kids were really rare. Finding the proper components and shape was really difficult, and when something is rare it’s expensive. At that time most of the components for the foot or ankle were made for adult sizes.”
Although civilian amputees were assisted since after World War II, in 1975, the association created the Child Amputee Program (CHAMP).
Every province has varying programs for amputees — from those who do not cover the cost of artificial limbs to those who cover the basic ones.
Quebec covers the basic artificial limbs, but not prostheses for sports, taking a shower, playing music, or artistic painting. In Montreal and Laval, some 250 amputees are receiving moral and/or financial support, Bourassa says. Most of the funds across Canada, or $92 million in 2017, were spent on the Children’s Amputee Program, compared to almost $3 million for adult amputees.
Donations come from a variety of sources, mainly for the key tags mailed to most motorists in Canada. They amounted to $31.1 million in 2017 of total revenue of $37 million.
That program started in 1946 to provide employment for returning amputee veterans of the Second World War.
Canadians are encouraged to include a charitable bequest in their wills to continue the legacy of helping amputees. They totaled $5.3 million in 2017.
All amputees who want to receive assistance are asked to contact the Montreal offices.
The Child Amputee Program is at 1-800-250-3030, and the adult amputee program is at 1-877-622-2472