Transverse Myelitis

Fundraiser held for transverse myelitis patient on his 15th birthday


By Jonathan Martin


A local youth celebrated his 15th birthday in a big way this past Sunday.

A fundraising dinner, complete with live entertainment and door prizes, was held at the AMA Sportsmen’s Club both in celebration of his birthday – he turned 15 on the 15th –  and as a way to cover some of the costs associated with his treatment.

Phoenix MacDonald-Gagnon is fighting against transverse myelitis, a type of spinal cord inflammation that prevents signals from passing through the spinal cord into the rest of the body.

For now, MacDonald-Gagnon is restricted to a wheelchair, but he’s been making steady progress since his diagnosis last year, according to his aunt, Kari Dufour.  She said that for now, the family is dealing with each challenge as it comes.  One of those challenges is accessibility.

Phoenix and his mother, Betty-Joe MacDonald, spend their weekdays at Holland Bloorview Kids’ Rehabilitation Hospital in Toronto.  On the weekends, they come back South to stay with Misti and Wayne Moyer.  The house in which they’re staying is not designed with wheelchair-accessibility in mind, according to MacDonald, so the next big project will be renovating the residence.

Phoenix MacDonald-Gagnon celebrated his 15th birthday last Sunday with a fundraiser in his honour at the AMA Sportsmen Association.

MacDonald said she hasn’t been given an official figure yet, but she estimates the price tag for construction will sit somewhere between $15,000 and $20,000.

“It’s not easy,” she said.  “We have good healthcare, but there are a lot of things that aren’t covered.”

Dufour said they applied to receive funding from the March of Dimes Canada, the Rehabilitation Foundation for Disabled Persons, but were denied.  She said for now it looks like the family will be paying out-of-pocket.

Still, the MacDonald’s are remaining in high spirits, especially on Phoenix’s special day.

“It’s really special to see all these supporters,” he said.

“He’s amazing,” said Dufour.  “He went in to see the head neurologist in the London hospital, and (the neurologist) used words like ‘incredible.’  He couldn’t believe how far Phoenix has come in such a short amount of time.”

Betty-Joe said that Phoenix has some movement in his arms, which she said is something the doctors told her Phoenix would be unlikely to achieve.

“We’re hopeful that one day he’ll have enough strength to walk again,” she said.  “For now, hope is definitely the key.”

Funds being raised for local man with Transverse Myelitis



By Ron Giofu


When Rick Orum got up to go to work one morning in late December, his life changed in a big way.

Now, his family is trying to raise funds and public support to help him deal with Transverse Myelitis, the illness he was eventually diagnosed with as a result of what he experienced that morning.

“On Dec. 27, he got up to go to work after four days off for Christmas,” said Rick’s wife Manila Celsi-Orum. “He got up and he was weak in the knees. He came back and collapsed in bed in excruciating pain for a couple of minutes then had no feeling from the waist down.”

Rick underwent five MRI’s, lumbar punctures and a series of plasma exchanges but was eventually diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord. After spending three weeks in Windsor Regional Hospital’s Ouellette campus, he was transferred to the Tayfour campus where he is still recovering.

The 52-year-old Amherstburg resident has regained some movement in his left leg, not much in his right and still has no feeling from the waist down.

“We really don’t know what the prognosis is because we don’t know what type of virus attacked his spinal cord,” explained Manila, adding they are focusing on his rehabilitation right now.

Manila said it has been an extremely stressful time for the family as they also juggle their family businesses as well as trying to be at the hospital to help Rick.

“It’s been a huge adjustment,” she said.

RIck Orum of Amhersburg is battling Transverse Myelitis. His family has started a GoFundMe page to help fund their needs in relation to his illness. (Photo from

Owner of Canard Automotive and LaSalle Towing and Recovery, Rick has been unable to resume work at those businesses. His family has been trying to get the businesses going as much as possible.

“Rick was a one-man show,” said Manila. “He was the mechanic and tow truck operator.”

While drivers are helping with the towing end of the business, the garage has been put on hold for the time being, she explained.

Rick is on blood thinners and auto-immune medications and his therapy is ongoing. Manila said his morale is doing fine, noting he has now had time to deal with what he is going through.

“He’s got a really good sense of humour,” she added.

A fundraising page has been established on the GoFundMe site, with Rick’s page entitled “Rick’s Fight Back from Paralysis.” Response to it has been going well thus far, Manila said, with financial and moral support being offered. People from across the country, many of whom have suffered from Transverse Myelitis, have reached out.

“It was very, very uplifting and very encouraging,” she said.

The GoFundMe page is trying to raise $35,000. Manila said they are fundraising for renovations to their home to be wheelchair-accessible including a washroom, wheelchair ramps and lifts, a wheelchair-accessible vehicle, and ongoing therapy and medications.

“There are a lot of little things and some big things,” she said.

Rick was originally scheduled to come out of the hospital this Friday but, after meeting with the doctors, Manila said it was agreed to not release him just yet. The family does not know when the new release date will be.

Manila added that the family has received a lot of encouragement thus far.

“I want to thank everyone for the support,” she said. “The outpouring of support is overwhelming for me.”

The direct link to the GoFundMe web page is

Massive crowd turns out to support Phoenix MacDonald-Gagnon and family



By Ron Giofu


Approximately 425 people jammed the Columbian Club Hall in McGregor Sunday evening to support Phoenix MacDonald-Gagnon and his family.

The surprise of the night was the arrival of Phoenix himself, along with his mother Betty-Joe. Phoenix who was originally hospitalized last September in London before being moved to Toronto in December, made his first visit back to Essex County for the fundraiser.

Both Phoenix and Betty-Joe’s return to the area was short-lived, as they had to be back at the Bloorfield Rehabilitation Centre in Toronto later Sunday night. Phoenix went to bed the night of Sept. 26, 2017 and woke up shortly thereafter unable to move. While doctors thought he may have suffered a pair of strokes, he is currently being treated for Transverse Myelitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord.

Phoenix, a 14-year-old Grade 9 student at Western Secondary School, said planning for his attendance at the fundraiser began a couple of weeks ago.

A fundraiser was held Sunday at the Columbian Club Hall in McGregor for Phoenix MacDonald-Gagnon and Betty-Joe MacDonald being able to attend. The event raised
approximately $17,000.

“I’m very happy,” he said, regarding being able to attend. “It’s unbelievable to see my friends and family.”

Many in attendance, including members of the family, wore “Team Phoenix” T-shirts. A video was shown on the big screens in the hall showing Phoenix’s progress as he has gone from limited to no movement to the ability to move some of his extremities.

The experience has been “a crazy roller coaster ride,” he said.

Phoenix still is unable to walk and moves via a wheelchair. Early estimates on his permanent return home are June but he will still need an accessible vehicle and home along with other expenses associated with his treatments.

As of Monday morning, the fundraiser topped $17,000.

Betty-Joe said they are still not sure what the final outcome will be. She thanked the community for its outpouring of support.

“It’s very overwhelming. Amazing, actually,” said Betty-Joe. “This is what it means to be from a small town.”

Calling herself a “pretty positive” person, Betty-Joe said it has been a miracle to watch Phoenix progress as he has.

“We just want to say thank you to everyone,” she said.

A packed house at the Columbian Community Hall in McGregor helped support Phoenix MacDonald-Gagnon and his family Sunday evening. The event raised $17,000.

The Columbian Squires in McGregor made a $2,000 donation to the Bloorfield Rehabilitation Centre’s foundation as part of the fundraiser. The money will help fund the family’s expenses while there.

Larry Bezaire, one of the organizers of the fundraiser, said they were originally planning for 200 or so to turn out.

“We got 400,” he said, fighting back emotion. “I want to thank everyone.”

Due to the amount of donations they received, the pasta dinner was presented with very little expenses as even much of the food was donated.

There is also an online fundraising campaign, as a GoFundMe campaign has been started. To contribute, visit and search “Help Phoenix with Medical Expenses.” The direct link is