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Maple Ridge family needs help after ALS diagnosis

Published in Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadow News March 9, 2021, written by Collen Flanagan

Francisco Blancarte, right, with his family, wife Lorena Santillan, and daughters Samantha, 13, and Andrea, 22. (Andrea Blancarte/Special to The News)

Francisco Blancarte’s symptoms started in 2019.

When the father of two lost of his voice, he thought he had a sinus infection.

The Mexican immigrant, who moved to British Columbia with his family in 2009 and then finally settled in Maple Ridge in 2014, didn’t think anything of it.

However, after about a year of searching, Francisco was finally diagnosed in May, 2020: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Now the family is asking for help. A GoFundMe has been set up by his 22-year-old daughter, Andrea, to raise $50,000 to help purchase equipment her father will need as he slowly loses his ability to walk, talk, eat, swallow, and, finally breathe.

According to ALS Canada, Lou Gehrig’s disease is a motor neuron disease that gradually paralyzes people because the brain is no longer able to communicate with the muscles of the body people normally move at will.

READ MORE: ALS supporters still walking to aid research and provide patient supports

The disease was named after an American professional baseball player for the New York Yankees who was diagnosed with ALS and forced to retire from the sport at the age of 36 because it was affecting his performance on the field. He died in 1941, two years later.

“My dad has never cried in his life, ever,” said Andrea. But when he learned of his diagnosis, she continued, he broke down in tears.

Francisco was the sole provider of the family and worked as a pipe fitter, welder and foreman at the United Association Local 170 until November last year, when he started to lose strength to his upper body. He could no longer lift heavy objects.

“Things you’d expect a guy in construction to be doing,” explained his eldest daughter.

Andrea has taken time off school to help her family.

“I was at Douglas College but I took a break for this semester. Put a pause on things for a while,” said Francisco’s daughter.

“There’s some things more important than school. I thought I would like to spend some time with him, you know,” she said.

Since the GofundMe was started, the family has been able to purchase two chair lifts to enable Francisco to get up and down the two staircases in their central Maple Ridge townhouse.

They were able to find the chair lifts used for $3,000 each.

Francisco’s family is now planning out the future and the equipment they will need to help him at home.

Money raised will go towards making their bathroom more accessible.

Andrea said her father is a big man – 6 foot tall and around 200 pounds – and he has fallen four times trying to get his leg over the tub when trying to bathe.

Her mother is unable to lift him.

READ MORE: B.C. announces new coverage for ALS drugs, and funding towards centre of excellence

They put a chair inside the tub that is working for now, but the family is hoping to install a shower he can just walk into. And one that will eventually be able to fit a wheelchair. They would also like to eventually be able to purchase a motor scooter for him.

But, she said, they are taking everything one day at a time.

“Right now he’s doing amazing so far,” Andrea said, adding doctors have told him the progression of the disease is really slow and that he has good chances at treatments.

He is currently taking three different medications: Baclofen, Riluzole, and Venlafaxine.

Francisco also goes for therapy at the G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre, the largest rehabilitation hospital in the province, located in Vancouver.

“They have neurosurgeons, they have therapists, they have everything there. It’s wonderful,” said Andrea.

Andrea and her family want to thank everyone who has supported them so far.

“We’re from Mexico, so we don’t really have family here. We have friends, but, even from Canada, when I posted that story, people I didn’t even know, family I didn’t know…. reached out to me. Everyone was so nice,” she said.

One great support to her family has been their family doctor, Dr. Fernando Villasenor, who, Andrea said, has made many visits to the house since her father is having difficulties getting around.

“He is an outstanding member of the Maple Ridge community and has a huge heart and takes a professional interest in his patients and their well being,” she said.

Her father was hesitant about putting their story out in public, added Andrea, because he never asked for a hand-out or donations before.

“It was very inspiring,” said Andrea of the reaction to the GoFundMe page.

As of Monday, Mar. 8, $12,888 has been raised by 67 donors of the $50,000 goal.


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