Hard road back

Stabbed in the heart two years ago, Tanner Chaboyer has made significant strides in an arduous fight to regain some of his former promise.

Tanner Chaboyer and his mother

Tanner Chaboyer and his mother

Stabbed in the heart two years ago, Tanner Chaboyer has made significant strides in an arduous fight to regain some of his former promise.

His mother Amber Chaboyer has been staging her own battle to get her 15-year-old son help. She believes that even with his new limitations, Tanner can continue to develop as long as he receives assistance.

Tanner was near death on Aug. 11, 2008, after being stabbed by a 16-year-old thug he didn’t know.

After being attacked in broad daylight in downtown Red Deer, Tanner staggered into a nearby business for help. The owner called 911 and began CPR.

Fire-medics had to restart Tanner’s heart several times. After going into cardiac arrest, he suffered brain trauma that caused cortical visual impairment.

Tanner was hospitalized for four months. Doctors first told his parents that Tanner might remain “a vegetable” but then he began to exceed their expectations.

“He has come a long way by leaps and bounds,” Amber says.

“He’s still very stubborn and that’s one thing he carried over.”

Before the stabbing, Tanner was an outgoing, athletic student who won a provincial youth achievement award for his academic standing.

He has returned to school with the help of an aide and recently scored 72 per cent on a social studies test. He’s also taking Spanish as a second language.

“I must say the group that has helped us the most is the public school system,” Amber says. “They have been very helpful and accommodating. We can’t say enough about them.”

People with cortical visual impairment have variable vision. Visual ability can change from day to day and even minute to minute, especially when the person is tired.

“He sees everything but his brain doesn’t understand the message of what he’s seeing,” Amber says.

“He doesn’t walk into a pole because he sees it. However, he doesn’t understand what he sees and that’s where the danger comes.”

It is also difficult for people with CVI to look at an object and reach for it at the same time. Looking and reaching are often accomplished as two separate acts: look, then look away and reach.

Amber says Tanner reacts differently to such things as a hot plate on a stove.

“He doesn’t have the senses in his hands so where we would quickly take our hand away when we feel the heat, he will leave his hand there for two seconds,” Amber says.

His recovery is slow but steady, and at times frustrating because of the twists and turns the family must negotiate with various aid agencies, Amber says.

She says what Tanner needs is someone to help him work with his hands.

“Someone to help make him more functional and independent,” Amber said.

She said it’s difficult to understand that people from the CNIB, for example, have difficulty working with Tanner.

“They can teach him to turn the stove on but he doesn’t need that.”

Ellie Shuster, director of regional communications for the CNIB in Edmonton, says she can’t discuss specific cases, but if the family calls the Calgary CNIB office they may be able to help.

Amber says she was told the CNIB doesn’t help children with brain trauma and the “brain unit” says they don’t cover people who are blind. “So where do I go?”

She was told to contact the financial services branch of the Family Support for Children with Disabilities section of the Department of Children and Youth Services.

“That was fine. They cover expenses for a trip to Calgary or respite care but processing your invoice takes up to 30 days so you’re behind for that long.” Calls by the Advocate to the department weren’t returned.

Amber says she tried to get help for Tanner at the pediatric unit at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre but says it’s mostly designed for younger people, and the rehab equipment isn’t designed for people who are 1.91 metres (six feet, three inches) tall like Tanner.

Amber said there are people who help to drive him places but they have to wait at least 30 days to get paid. She said she can pay them but then she has to wait a month or more to get paid.

The 17-year-old who stabbed Tanner was released about two months ago from custody and is on eight months of supervised open custody. The male pleaded guilty to aggravated assault, possession of a weapon dangerous to the public and possession of a prohibited weapon. He received the maximum sentence for the attack, which under the Youth Criminal Justice Act is two years.

A benefit concert raised about $15,400 to help the family but that was mostly consumed because both parents had to take leave from their jobs.

In addition, the justice system prevents the family from suing the stabber because of his age, or his parents, because Amber says the law won’t allow her to find out the names of the parents.

Tanner did receive money from the province’s victim of crime compensation fund but that is in a trust fund for him.