Family grateful for outpouring of support
Claire Bear Fundraiser
September 29, 2021, 2:22 pm
When Claire Norek was little her nickname was Claire Bear. She will never forget that nickname because it has come to mean so much more over the last year.
On September 4 of last year, Claire was badly injured an ATV accident. The community rallied around her with a Claire Bear drive, raising funds for the family, who have paid it forward by contributing the funds to STARS Air Ambulance and the Esterhazy Fire Department.
750 bears were ordered and the drive was held in October of last year.
Now Claire continues her recovery knowing the whole community has her back. Kevin Weedmark spoke with Claire and her mother Audra last week.
Tell me about the accident and how all this started.
Claire: I got into an accident on a quad and I ended up being in the hospital for three months. While I was in the hospital Abby and Chloe, my sisters, had texted me and said hey, just wondering do you like purple or do you like brown bears or dark bears? I thought they would make me a teddy bear because I was in the hospital and I thought aww, that’s cute because I have three teddy bears that are very important to me. So I was like maybe I can have another one for this big moment in my life.
Then I got this notice they were doing a Claire Bear Drive and I was like well hang on Claire? I’m guessing that’s for me but I have no clue what that means? And then I found out that they organized a teddy bear drive called Claire Bears for my family.
Audra: It was really quite remarkable for us being up there for three months and not being back here. We have four children so I was up in the hospital with Claire and my husband would go back and forth. The community and family and friends’ support was just absolutely amazing, especially with Covid and having limited access to come up and visit, friends just really went above and beyond to show their support and just to let us know even though they couldn’t be there they were thinking of us.
How does it feel knowing that people not only cared enough to organize it for you but also cared enough to come out en mass and support it the way they did?
Claire: When they said they were doing it I said oh that’s so awesome, you’ll sell a few bears, that’s so cool. I didn’t understand how big it was going to be. Some people just bought bears and then donated them. People came from everywhere. I thought the people of Esterhazy will come and buy but there were people from other towns, from all over. Some people donated the bears and I gave them to the Children’s Hospital and the Fire Department.
Audra: One of the community members, Bridgeview Manufacturing, donated $1,000 and had the bears go to the Fire Department. We had bears that were able to be donated back to the EMS and the Children’s Hospital just so that they could provide comfort to other kids maybe going through something similar or something scary when they’re in these kind of unknown situations.
Claire: I wanted to give them to the Children’s Hospital for the babies, because there were a lot of babies there.
Audra: The support was absolutely overwhelming. Obviously we’re touched beyond belief. There really are no words to express the level of amazement that we had.
Claire: I didn’t expect anything like this. It was the coolest thing that anyone has ever done for me.
Can you tell me a little bit more about the accident and about the treatment that you required afterwards? You were in Saskatoon for three months?
Claire: Yes, 84 days. So on September 4, I got into a quad accident with a truck at an intersection and then I was air ambulanced to Regina to have emergency surgery and then I was air lifted to Saskatoon where I spent the rest of my time. I was in an induced coma for 10 days. In that time they removed my leg below the knee. I also suffered some head trauma. I had a collapsed lung and I lost the use of my right kidney, and I fractured my hip. Oh and I shattered my pinkie.
What was the care like in the hospital?
Claire: Wow. It’s an amazing centre. It is so amazing. I was still 15 at the time so I went to the Children’s Hospital. I was able to have my mom there which is amazing. They have this huge awesome centre there where you can go and they have a kitchen, they have music therapy and a fun room for kids to play.
While I was there I got to do music therapy and I even got to accredit that to my band mark so I got a credit for that. They also had physio in the building and the physiotherapists there are just awesome. They’re the nicest people. I miss them so much because they were just so cool and their program was awesome. I was dealing with CRPS at the time, just a chronic pain syndrome in my remaining foot, so they had to keep pushing me with the therapy.
Audra: When we were there, the Children’s Hospital celebrated its one year anniversary and it truly is a remarkable facility. Between the occupational therapy, physiotherapy, music therapy, they had teachers on staff that worked with our teachers back here in Esterhazy. Like Claire was saying, the music therapy, even physical therapy, they allowed for her to use it as a Phys Ed mark. At the community level the school, the Esterhazy High School, and the staff there were fantastic with working with us and just when you talk about that facility there it was absolutely remarkable.
Essentially we lived in a bubble in those early days just focused day to day on recovery. Being away for three months, and knowing that my kids at home were being supported was such a relief (I stayed in Saskatoon and then after the first month Dallas and the kids would come back and forth on weekends). We appreciated every meal, message, prayer, positive vibe, virtual hug and parking lot visit. We wouldn’t have gotten through such a tough time without it and we are eternally grateful.
How did the Claire Bear sales work—were the funds to go to the family initially?
Audra: The intention was they were thinking of us and it was just something they could do, but with the medical system we didn’t have bills associated with Claire’s therapy and stay in the hospital so we wanted to be able to pay it forward knowing how lucky we really, really are.
When we were in the hospital, you could hear the helicopters landing. Honestly if they didn’t land twice a day during those 85 days that we were there, then they didn’t land once. It was constant.
The first responders obviously were amazing to get Claire prepared, but if STARS didn’t exist Claire wouldn’t be here.
Knowing that, and being in the hospital and hearing those helicopters land every day, we just wanted to be able to pay it forward a bit knowing one flight out usually is about, $5,400 or $5,600, and so with the funds that they raised we were able to present STARS with $6,000 and then we gave an additional $500 from the remaining funds to the local Fire Department just to pay it forward. Lots of people were sharing the bears they bought with us so we got to share bears with the Fire Department too.
Claire: My favorite thing was everybody would take pictures with their Claire Bears while I was in the hospital, so I got to look through all the pictures. My favorite ones were on Halloween. Halloween’s my favorite, I absolutely love it.
They would go trick or treating with them or they would set them up in their Halloween displays.
You went to STARS to present the cheque?
Audra: When we went to present that to STARS it was really a wonderful opportunity because Claire got to meet Jolene and Darren who were the paramedic and the nurse on the flight.
Claire: Really cool people.
Audra: I’m absolutely so thankful that there are people out there who can do what they do and keep their calm in these crazy situations. That was really wonderful. I don’t think we had dry eyes within 10 seconds of stepping into the place.
Claire: I cried.
Claire how much of an impact has this accident had on your life? Are you still doing physiotherapy and things like that?
Claire: I did physical therapy all throughout when I was in the hospital, then when I got out of the hospital around December I started doing it three times a week in Yorkton. The Yorkton facility’s amazing too, the only problem is that it would take an hour to drive there then you would be there for an hour and then it would be an hour back. So it was affecting my grades a little bit. I did the summer program which was three and a half hours three times a week and so that took up a bunch of time but I’m through that and so now I only have to go once every three weeks.
Audra: They’re setting her up with an at home program. They’ve been really great and accommodating there working with us to get exercises that Claire can do. The amputation obviously is an adjustment.
Claire: Yeah, I can’t do as many movements as I could before and I can jump but only a little bit.
But I did my first cartwheel a little while ago. I’m pretty proud of that. I kicked myself a few times but I did my first cartwheel. I’m really proud of the work I’ve done over the last year.
I play ball, I’ve got a designated runner and maybe even if I don’t get it on base I always hit the ball. I’m proud of that accomplishment. I’m on honor roll. I got my first job. I’ve never had a job that wasn’t working for family. I don’t have my running leg yet because I have HO which is...
Audra: Heterotopic ossification.
What is that?
Claire: Basically my body’s trying to repair something that can’t be fixed so it’s growing extra bone. So I have it on my hip because—Oh, I forgot to say I fractured my hip as well. Sorry, I forget about that one sometimes. I still have pain but it’s not from the break, it’s because I didn’t use my hip for three months so it’s mostly from bursitis and tendonitis but it’s when you grow extra bone that you’re not needing. I sometimes joke I’m growing a leg but in the wrong direction cause it just creates bumps that are painful in the socket. So once it’s matured I can get it removed and then once it’s removed at the amputation site I can get my running leg.
You see all the runners with the big “L” looking shape. Except mine will be smaller because I’m not a long distance runner, I’m more of a basketball runner which is another thing I’m excited for because I can’t wait to try out for the basketball team this year.
You’ve gone through something Claire that 99 per cent of people will never go through in their lives and I’m just wondering over the last year, the accident, the recovery, the community support—what have you learned about yourself and what have you learned about your community?
Claire: You know, before if people were to ask me questions about who I was I would definitely say I could answer it, but after the whole experience you learn stuff about yourself that you never knew.
You learn how you handle different situations, how you feel—and I think that I did a pretty good job of keeping stable through it all but then there would be little hiccups that would make you feel bad and there would be things that would happen that would be so heart wrenching and horrible because I had a fasciotomy, so every time they would come in and check my leg to see if I could get my wounds closed they wouldn’t be ready yet and they would do it every week.
So it would just be a week of thinking it’s almost ready and praying and hoping and then it not happening and so you learn stuff about yourself. You learn how you handle that.
I came home from the hospital and the biggest thing that hit me was I had clothes in my closet that I had never worn in public because I was too nervous about it, or that, I’ve never dyed my hair different colors. Since I’ve been home I’m not afraid of that anymore. I’ve dyed my hair purple, blue and red. So we’ll see what the next color’s going to be.
I know it was a close call and I got through it because of the support of the community. I just couldn’t believe the support. I don’t even know half the people in the community. I live on the farm and I know my friends, their parents, but not a lot of people, and I didn’t expect this at all.
There’s no words to explain how grateful I am. I have my friends and they always cheered me up. Some of my friends would send me messages and my parents would play them to me when I was conscious right after the coma and I would get to listen to them, or they’d text me or they’d come and visit and I’d look out the window and wave and we’d be on the phone. I’d get to talk to them on the phone.
Audra: They’d be down in the parking lot.
Claire: It was Covid. They did all of these amazing things for me and it just makes me want to do something in return. I will do anything really in return because all that support, it was the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me.
I got to tell everybody at the hospital about how great Esterhazy is. They’d be ‘oh so how is everything back home?’ I’d be ‘yeah I live at Esterhazy, and you know what—it’s the best.’ I got to talk about my friends and how kickass everyone is there.
I did brag a little bit.
What about you Audra, what have you learned over the last year?
Audra: When people say you should never take anything for granted, there’s a whole new truth to that for us.
It also shows the silent support that you don’t even know is there, and when people say it takes a village it truly does, because the support was just absolutely incredible and even being in the city with Claire for three months and being removed, just the outpouring of support was truly amazing.
Another group that was supportive was the War Amps. They hooked us up with a peer for Claire so she could talk to someone who had also gone through a below the knee amputation at the age of 15 and it connected me with a mother who could help answer questions. We still keep in touch a year later. The hospital helped connect us with the War Amps. Obviously this was all new territory for us and having someone help us navigate was appreciated. It was a steep learning curve to know what is available and where to look.
I’ve always been a glass half full rather than half empty kind of person and Claire will give me an eye roll here because every day it’s about choices. Every day she wakes up and obviously her reality is different and our reality as a family is a little bit different, but she’s here and learning to manage with those new realities or that pain, and that is just something we handle moving forward and sometimes Claire doesn’t always appreciate my let’s look on the bright side.
Claire’s one of four kids. Knowing that while I was away there were people here helping and supporting my other kids, our family. Whether it was through meals or messaging or people coming and cleaning out the garden and getting canning done.
Claire: My favorite salsa is pineapple salsa and it’s the best thing in the world, so people brought me salsa and I got to eat it in the hospital. I almost went through a whole container in one day and mom had to slow me down because it was so good.
Audra: So it was just amazing. There were people back here doing that for us and making sure that our kids had rides and were getting to activities. Trying to keep a little semblance of normal in the face of abnormal, just all of that was so appreciated beyond words. So when Claire says if there’s anything that anybody asks of us like whether it’s to participate in an ATV awareness campaign or speak about the importance of wearing a helmet or any other way we can pay back the community for the support, we will do that.
It’s different but it’s still going to be a very full, wonderful life, and so we’re just very appreciative for all the support that we’ve had to get to this point and that we’ll have in the future going forward.
The Claire Bear organizers shared the order sheets with us and many of them had messages of encouragement. They set up an email for people to share pictures. They truly went above and beyond and are exceptional individuals. It is impressive what they organized and we are humbled that they would do this for us. Some people then in turn donated their bears back and we were able to distribute them to the children’s hospital, local EMS and the local Fire Department. Hopefully they will provide comfort to others in their time of need.
Saying ‘thank you’ doesn’t seem sufficient in conveying the depth of our appreciation, but we are truly grateful to live in a community with such amazing, generous individuals.
Claire what does the future hold for you? I know sometimes when people go through something like this, their perspective and their priorities change a lot. What are your future plans and what do you hope to do with your life?
Claire: I’m in Grade 11 now and I’ve never been one person who’s been like oh I need fame and I need fortune. I’ve never been like in my career I’m going to be an astronaut or something like that.
I’ve always wanted just a normal life because going through daily activities actually brings me so much joy. I want to go to the U of S, I want to be a pathologist assistant. I love biology and I love the study of the human body so I’m really excited for this.
I’m really excited for my future. Tweet