Diabetes already took Saanich resident Bob Gilbert’s right leg. Now it’s threatening to leave the 60-year-old with no legs.
On his red electric scooter, often carrying bags of empties, Gilbert is a common sight in the Quadra-Cedar Hill neighbourhood.
An ex-stockbroker and floor trader of 20 years in the Vancouver Stock Exchange, Gilbert now shares a two-bedroom apartment with another couple across the road from Rutledge Park. Diabetes forced him to have his right leg amputated from below the knee eight years ago, an affliction the result of poor decisions in his past life.
Despite a nagging diabetic ulcer on his toe, the type doctors like to amputate, the community has rallied to give Gilbert new hope.
Gilbert’s retained his left leg through consistent treatments in a hyperbaric chamber but he’s in desperate need of more, he said. His wealth, or what was left of it, is gone. A self-made millionaire by 25, broke, then a millionaire again by 30, Gilbert spent his last dollars at the HOC Hyperbaric Care Centre in Victoria, which is no longer in operation.
“I was a regular, I had extensive treatments there, spent all my money saving my life,” Gilbert said. “I even volunteered there.”
There are no hyperbaric treatments offered locally through the provincial health care system, though Health Canada does recognize hyperbaric oxygen treatment for its enhancement of healing for wounds such as diabetic foot ulcers.
“[With hyperbaric treatment] I’ve managed for eight years to keep infection out of my left leg,” Gilbert said. “I’ve had this ulcer [in my toe] for the last two years. I had hyperbaric treatment last summer, it went away but [without treatments since] it’s come back again.”
The nearest clinic on Vancouver Island is now the Oceanside Hyperbaric lab in Parksville, which charges $100 per hour ($150 less for double occupancy). He did manage to get some treatments in 2016.
However, thanks to a fundraising campaign started at the Roundhouse coffee shop at the corner of Inverness and Cloverdale (next door to his building), Gilbert is hoping to start a new round of therapy and save his foot.
Knowing Gilbert’s humble disposition, Roundhouse owner Kelly Miller-Gerlach conspired with a group of Saturday morning regulars known as “the dog walkers” to surprise Gilbert with a Gofundme Page, Save Bob’s Leg. They even ‘tricked’ Gilbert to get a photo of him.
“[Gilbert] knows them all, and we thought, what the hell, let’s do a Gofundme Page,” Miller-Gerlach said.
“It makes me feel like I’m living in a small town again,” Gilbert said. “Living in the city is anonymous, but in this community, this is the hub. You get to know people and it feels good, like a small town.”
Gilbert even has his first two sessions booked for this week, and is grateful for the chance to retain his foot.
“Doctors wanted to take some pieces off my foot again, and I know what happens,” Gilbert said. “It starts with the toe. I’ve already lost a little toe, but it starts with the big toe, then the other toe has to compensate, it takes the weight and soon it gets infected and then they want to take your foot off.
“[Last year] I disagreed, I cured it, and I showed them. I got [the wound] to the point where it closed over.”
The problems started from a lack of care with his body, Gilbert said. Along with being a successful stockbroker came the trappings.
“I got involved with booze and drugs, I screwed up my life and my body. It was easy to do. You’re off at 1 p.m. in the afternoon and you’re in the bar. You have money, you’re young, you get the girls, and it’s just partying.
“All this was fun but I’m certainly a lot happier. I’ve done what I want to do in life, I’ve got no pressure, I have a good place to live, I’ve got enough to eat, I’ve got some good friends and I’m my own boss, [collecting empty bottles and cans ] when I want.”
Donations of empties are accepted at the Queens Avenue Bottle Depot under the account Bottles for Bob (624).