Back in June, SooToday spoke with Ron and Helene Caron, an extraordinary, retired couple devoted to each other and their passion for Algoma Residential Community Hospice (ARCH).
Volunteering at the end-of-life facility, (Ron as a gifted handyman, Helene as a receptionist) Ron told SooToday “we’ve received so much through the years, it's nice to be able to give back a little bit while we can…don't wait, help while you can.”
A few months later, the Carons are more convinced than ever of the truth behind their philosophy of “help while you can.”
Life changed for the couple in September.
“I had a good summer. I worked at ARCH all summer because they wanted to make quite a few changes, so I painted there quite a bit,” Ron said, speaking to SooToday Nov. 21.
“When I wanted to see him, I had to go to ARCH,” Helene chuckled.
Ron was so enthused about helping out at ARCH, he chose to devote many of his summer days to the hospice rather than play golf, another of his passions as a retiree.
In late August and early September, the Carons vacationed in Quebec.
The perfect summer, or so it seemed.
Then, during the evening of Saturday, Sept. 3, Ron complained of a sore throat.
The following morning, Helene awoke to find Ron sitting in a chair suffering from a swollen tongue.
“He couldn’t speak, he couldn’t breathe,” Helene said.
She called for an ambulance.
“The last words he said to me when the ambulance came was ‘I love you,’” Helene said.
“I thought that was the end, the paramedics put him on the stretcher.”
Ron suffered 10 minutes of cardiac arrest on the way to Sault Area Hospital.
Paramedics worked to keep Ron breathing while the ambulance was in transit, then SAH emergency department medical staff took over upon his arrival.
He was in the hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU) for 10 days.
Family members were at his side.
When Ron eventually awoke from an unconscious state, Helene recalled he was his usual humorous self.
In late September, Ron was transported by air ambulance to Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital, where he underwent a quadruple bypass procedure.
Bypasses are always intricate surgical procedures, but as a result of complications, Ron is still in SAH’s rehabilitation unit, suffering from frequent leg tremors and is confined to a wheelchair.
“With therapy, I can walk a little bit, but it’s difficult,” Ron said.
He can still perform many tasks for himself, but needs supervision.
“The doctor has told me he can improve my quality of life, but everything takes time.”
“I’ll be able to function with a wheelchair and a walker, but it’ll take a long time…I’ve had visitors from ARCH and I promised them I’ll be back to volunteer,” Ron said.
“You see the bottom of the walls here,” Ron said, pointing to scuff marks on the walls of his hospital room.
“When I see marks like that, that’s what I do at ARCH, I clean them up and repaint…I look at this and I say ‘I could fix this up if I was in better shape,’” Ron smiled.
In spite of walkers and wheelchairs, Ron is keeping his hands active.
Helene recently brought a small appliance from home to his hospital room, where Ron repaired it.
“It was ironic I said ‘help while you can’ and all of a sudden a few months later something like this happened…I was feeling good, I never had chest pains, I have a good family doctor, regular checkups, but it just happened,” Ron said.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be the same as before because of the 10 minutes of cardiac arrest…but I won’t say ‘why has this happened to me?’ I look around here at the hospital and it happens every day.”
“He is so optimistic, he says we’re not going to look back, it’s happened, now we’ll just go forward,” Helene said.
The Carons, both in their 70s, clearly draw strength and optimism from each other, with a love for each other and a love for life, determined to see everything in a positive light.
“If you look at the obituaries a lot of people die around 75, others didn’t even have a chance to retire…if this cardiac arrest had happened to me at 55 when I first retired, it would have been a much bigger blow,” Ron said.
The Carons said they are very grateful for the paramedics who helped save Ron’s life, as well as doctors and all medical staff at SAH who have helped him throughout this ordeal.
“The paramedics in the Sault did an excellent, excellent job…after 10 minutes of cardiac arrest you never survive,” Ron said.
The Carons are encouraging people to get out, enjoy life and get involved in the community while still in good health.
Helene has recently returned to her post as a volunteer receptionist and telephone operator at ARCH one day a week while Ron’s recovery continues.
“I encouraged her, I said ‘I would go right now if I could,’ it’s a good thing, it rejuvenates you,” Ron said.
“It’s so good, you get to meet so many nice people,” Helene said.
Ron hopes to soon receive a day pass from SAH, which will allow him to go back to his home for the day and return to hospital in the evening, then to be home permanently in time for Christmas for what he realizes will be a long recovery process.
From there, Ron hopes to return to ARCH as a volunteer.
“Helene is in the reception area so I can help her, I can sit in the wheelchair and help in the kitchen, and even if I can sandpaper a little bit I will,” Ron said, hopeful he will walk again.
“We believe in ARCH, and I would like to go back.”
“Take what’s given to you and don’t look back. Look forward.”