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Saint John family hopes to raise funds for accessible van

Click to play video: 'Saint John family raising money for accessible van for daughter with cerebral palsy'
Saint John family raising money for accessible van for daughter with cerebral palsy
WATCH: A Saint John family is hoping to raise enough funds to purchase an accessible van for their daughter. She has cerebral palsy, and every six weeks, the family has to take the long trip to the IWK hospital in Halifax for treatment. Nathalie Sturgeon has their story. – Jul 25, 2021

One Saint John family is hoping to raise enough money to buy an accessible van.

Matthew and Mary Webb’s oldest daughter Gemma has cerebral palsy and is non-verbal. The two have to take Gemma to the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, about a four-hour drive, every six weeks for the next two to three years for spinal surgery.

The van they own is a standard model and does not fit Gemma’s needs or condition, often causing her pain.

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“She’s never really done well in the car,” Mary Webb said Sunday.

Mary Webb said as they began their most recent trip to Halifax, Gemma started screaming, and they knew it was because of pain. Webb said they have learned what certain sounds mean over time.

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“We were making frequent stops,” she said. “We medicated to try and help. Nothing but taking her out of the car seat relieved the pain. It took us about six hours to drive four kids, in the rain, in the dark, and then we thought, ‘OK, let’s be proactive for the ride home and let’s get the pain meds into her before we leave,’ but it was the same situation. It was awful.”

Gemma is getting an extension on rods placed in her back. A slight incorrect movement can cause her pain, and the car seat in the van does not hold her body as well as her wheelchair does — which has to be stored in the trunk in their van.

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Every time Mary or Matt lifts Gemma out of her wheelchair into the van, they worry about hurting her. The lack of an accessible van makes it difficult to do things as a family, too.

“You don’t want to go out,” Mary Webb said. “You don’t want your kid to be hurting all the time. It’s hard to go out and enjoy a family outing when you know someone is in pain.”

An accessible van that includes a ramp that would come out and allow them to wheel her in would change their lives for the better, according to Mary Webb. It would give Gemma a better quality of life.

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Setting up a fundraiser

An accessible van will cost the Webbs about $75,000, and retrofitting their 2009 Toyota Senna isn’t an option.

The family said they had trouble finding resources to help them with funding for accessible vehicles or even finding general information. They knew they were not in a position to make that kind of purchase.

Relatives set up a GoFundMe page to raise enough money for the family to get the van. They’ve raised $24,276 as of July 25.

The Webb family said they’ll continue to make the best of what they have in the meantime and are grateful for the donations they already received.

“It’s been really overwhelming,” said Mary Webb.

The family has stayed mostly isolated since the pandemic began because of the inherent risk to Gemma’s health. Mary Webb said it has been a lonely time for the family, but the donations have made them feel connected to the community, even if not physically.

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