Rachel Levy spends most of their day in bed.
While their partner, Eva Hocking, is at school or work, Levy can’t make food, walk their dog, or leave their apartment in Saanich. They can go to the bathroom independently when using a cane, but that’s about it.
Life didn’t used to be so restrictive for 25-year-old Levy, who moved from Calgary to Victoria in 2014 to pursue a theatre degree at the University of Victoria.
“I used to be so independent,” Levy told Black Press Media in an interview. “I thought I would never be reliant on anyone.”
In 2020, Levy was diagnosed with a string of chronic illnesses, many of which cause widespread pain, as well as additional sleep issues, brain fog and memory loss.
Levy’s chronic pain began to interfere with their ability to go to work, as they would often need to take multiple sick days in a row. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, they were laid off, and Hocking stepped in as the couple’s primary breadwinner.
“I was working full time and still not able to support us,” Hocking said. “Even the highest-paying job I could get right out of school, which happened to be in construction, wasn’t enough.”
In August 2020, Levy applied for disability assistance through the federal government, but their application was initially rejected. Levy appealed the rejection, but says it took a year to finally receive financial aid.
Over the course of that year, Levy lost the ability to walk or stand for more than 10 minutes at a time. Leaving the house alone wasn’t an option, but the couple eventually bought a manual wheelchair so Hocking could steer Levy around.
Finally, in August 2021, the Canadian government accepted Levy’s appeal and granted them disability funding.
“They gave us a big lump sum payment (in August), but we pretty much spent that immediately on getting a van,” Hocking added.
With the hurdle of accessing disability support out of the way, Hocking started looking into motorized wheelchairs for Levy, but quickly realized how difficult it would be to afford one.
A motorized wheelchair has multiple components beyond its engine and base. The cushion, back, positioning, steering and other factors can be customized to best assist an individual with their mobility, but Levy’s insurance didn’t extend that far.
“Blue Cross said it would cover $2,000 for the base chair, but nothing else,” Hocking said.
That meant Levy and Hocking needed an additional $20,000 to pay for the extra accessories Levy’s chair requires.
The government of B.C.’s ministry of social development and poverty reduction does have a process to provide residents with medical equipment and devices. Specifically, it will consider providing “the least expensive, appropriate medical equipment… to assist with a medically essential need.”
Levy explained that while their push wheelchair does allow them to meet their essential needs, a motorized one would give them the independence to go beyond that.
“The government considers mobility a luxury when it comes to disabilities,” Hocking said. “The definition of the law doesn’t provide the kind of support that is necessary when you need something expensive.”
Facing a $20,000 bill, Levy and Hocking turned to the one resource they hadn’t used yet — the Internet.
On Sept. 8, the couple published a fundraiser on the website GoFundMe, asking friends, family, and online strangers to contribute towards Levy’s mobility. They hoped to make a dent in the debt that buying a motorized wheelchair would create, but didn’t expect much else.
By Sept. 10, they had already passed the halfway point and as of Sept. 15, more than $13,500 had been donated.
Levy said they felt overwhelmed and grateful after seeing the donations pour in. At the same time, they want others to remember their fundraiser is an exception.
“For every GoFundMe like ours that will probably meet its goals, there are probably 50 others buried in the website,” they said.
Now, as the couple inches slowly, but surely, towards their goal, Levy has started thinking about their future for the first time in a long time. They’re considering going back to school, participating in the local arts scene,and possibly moving to Vancouver.
The first place Levy wants to go if they get a motorized wheelchair?
“The Malahat Skywalk,” they said, laughing. “Then, it’s the small things I think of. I think of being able to go to the library on my own and walk our dog.”
You can find Rachel Levy’s fundraiser at ca.gofundme.com/f/rachel-levy-needs-to-zoom.
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