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Saluting ‘unsung heroes’ - Andrew Olivier

We all know them. We see them all the time. Without them, Greater Sudbury wouldn’t be half the city it is right now.
We all know them. We see them all the time. Without them, Greater Sudbury wouldn’t be half the city it is right now.

They are the unsung heroes in our community — the people and organizations who quietly make a difference every single day, but do it without any fanfare or publicity.

I want to take a moment to tell you about the caring and empowering people who work for one local group that has meant the world to me, putting my life back together. That group is ICAN – the Independence Centre and Network.

It was 1994. I was 14 years old, playing minor bantam hockey here in Sudbury. I was skating very quickly to the opposition’s end when I suddenly lost my footing and fell head first into the boards. The force of my head hitting the boards and the helmet pressing into my neck resulted in a dislocation of the Cervical 4 and 5 discs in my neck.

I was paralyzed from the chest down and would be for the rest of my life.
I recall visits from family and friends that began in shock and ended in tears. The reality was it was going to be a very long road back to recovery and I’d need a lot of support to get there.

The next step was rehabilitation. It started in Toronto and consisted of physical therapy, occupational therapy, and, to keep academics in check, high school equivalence courses in math and English.

After a full year of rehab and recovery, I was home in Sudbury just shy of one year since my accident.

As we all know, being a teenager unto itself is not easy with all the changes, both physically and emotionally. Well, imagine doing it newly paralyzed, with only limited mobility in your neck, shoulders and arms.

Obviously, I had the loving support of my family and my close friends. But I needed more and this is where ICAN’s outreach services came into play.

Every morning, afternoon, and evening, an ICAN staff member would assist me with everything I would need to get through my day. I require the use of a motorized wheelchair for mobility and wrist braces to help me with eating and grooming. I also need an attendant care person to help me with all elements of morning and evening activities so I can start and end my day in an effective manner.

From bathing to dressing, I was, and still am, completely dependent on personal support care. The staff at ICAN tailored their visits to my ever-changing schedule, and did so without complaint, all while providing the friendliest level of support. Without their assistance, I would not have been able to be a normal teenager. They helped me realize that I could do just about anything I set my mind to doing.

So, with their support and the support of family and friends, I moved on with life and flourished. I went on to finish high school and even graduated as the class valedictorian. From there, it was on to Laurentian University where I took commerce and graduated with a master’s in business administration — at a time when I lost my father to lung cancer.

These days, I help with the family business, live independently with my beautiful fiancée, and am paying back in a small way to ICAN by sitting on the board and lending a client’s perspective on support and services.

This year, ICAN is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its Youth Services Programming where it continues to help young people, like I was, not only with coping, but also reaching high and achieving their goals.

I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has helped me over the years and those who continue to help me live independently — you are unsung heroes worthy of recognition. I feel blessed to be involved with such a wonderful organization.

Andrew Olivier is a Sudbury resident who is part of the ICAN board. ICAN ( provides persons with physical disabilities opportunities for independence and community inclusion by providing individualized support and rehabilitation services.

- Posted by Vivian Scinto