A leisurely Sunday drive on Manitoulin Island turned into tragedy for an Espanola man on Sept. 6.
Chris Gillis, a 31-year veteran of the Manitoulin Sudbury EMS, collided with a deer that day, and the crash left him paralyzed from the waist down.
His sister, Stacey Gillis, said while he’s suffered a life-changing injury, he’s in good spirits and will be starting rehabilitation soon.
She said Chris, who turns 53 next week, set off on a nice Sunday drive on his motorcycle, with plans to take in the scenery on Manitoulin Island. Somewhere near Mindemoya, a deer ran up the bank and into the road and collided with Chris’ motorcycle.
The collision knocked Chris into the ditch, where he stayed for about 20 minutes before he was found by a young woman. She flagged down a passing vehicle, which just happened to be friends of Chris, said Stacey.
He was taken by ambulance to the hospital in Little Current, then airlifted to Health Sciences North.
“Being a medic supervisor, he was telling the responding EMS workers how to do their jobs, which is typical Chris,” she said. “Because he was a medic, and known in the area, they kind of went into high alert.”
He spent more than a month in intensive care, but has since been moved into a room, she said.
“He’s progressing as doctors expected,” Stacey said. “He’s steadily gaining strength in his arms. Mentally, he’s doing fantastic, but that’s his personality. He’s very pragmatic. He just said, ‘Well, if this is my new reality, then so be it.’”
Chris will be moved to Toronto to undergo rehabilitation, she said.
Family friend Kathy Yusko created a GoFundMe account in Chris’ name.
Yusko set an initial fundraising goal of $35,000. They exceeded that goal within two weeks, a testament to the impact Chris has had on the lives of so many people, said Stacey.
Now, the new fundraising goal is $75,000. To date, the campaign has raised just over $43,000, with 329 donors.
“He is getting stronger and stronger every day and is stubborn and determined, two things that will come in very handy in his recovery,” Yusko wrote in a Sept. 27 update on the Go Fund Me page.
Stacey said she had no intention of starting a fundraising campaign for Chris, but she and her brother are very grateful for the support. She said the money will be used to retrofit Chris’ home and vehicle for wheelchair access.
“This money is life changing,” Stacey said. “In a town of just 5,000 people, it’s pretty crazy. This will buy things that would be a bit of a financial burden on Chris.”
Being a paraplegic means Chris will now have to hang up his paramedic uniform for good.
“He retired that day,” Stacey said.
Chris was also a volunteer firefighter, and over the past year, he made two trips to Texas to rescue dogs from a high-kill shelter and bring them back to Canada.
“He knows everyone, he goes everywhere and he does everything,” she said.