It may seem strange but Austin Chapman is grateful for the time he spent in the hospital as child.
The 21-year-old Millville resident was recently voted the Cape Breton Regional Chamber of Commerce CBRM Citizen of the Year and he credits his experience as a patient with making him want to give back.
“When I was younger I had quite a bit of health problems, I had scoliosis and things like that, so that led me to go into nursing and seeing how people treated me in the IWK kind of led me toward the pediatrics role,” explained Chapman, a third-year nursing student at Cape Breton University who wants to work with children after he graduates. “It was positive all around. They treated me great, they showed me a lot of compassion and they showed me how nurses there treat the kids. That’s what made me think I want to help people.”
Shortly after Chapman recovered from a nine-hour surgery in which doctors successfully straightened his spine by inserting two titanium rods when he was in Grade 11 — “Now I’m pain free and able to everything anyone else is able to do,” he happily reports — he had a life-changing conversation with his grandfather Joey Bonnar.
Bonnar had been organizing two annual events — the Leah Dugas Hockey Kids Against Cancer Tournament and the Gail Bonnar Finney and Kevin Carey Memorial Dart Shoot — to raise money for the Cape Breton Regional Hospital and the Canadian Cancer Society and he asked his grandson to help out so he could pass the torch to him.
“Seven or eight years ago he approached and said ‘Do you want to be co-organizer with me and eventually take over these tournaments for yourself.’ That was one of the best moments of my life because it helped push me to be who I am today — to be a nurse and win that award,” said Chapman, adding that the two events brought in more than $20,000 last year.
Early next year, Chapman will be helping people in South America. On Feb. 14, Chapman and 25 other CBU nursing students, along with five instructors, will travel Peru.
They will each spend 80 hours in a clinical setting at three different hospitals as well with community organizations that work with the poor, elderly and children with disabilities.
“Our goal is to go to a different culture and kind of immerse ourselves into that culture, learn from them, learn their language, their hospitals, their practices, and bring that back to Cape Breton,” said Chapman, who not surprisingly is looking most forward to working with children. “Travelling to a different country, to be able to experience something like this and see how the health care works over there is great in itself, but for myself, I want to work with pediatrics, with kids, so the part where we go into the community to children with disabilities is what I’m looking forward to.”
The students each need about $4,000 (if they can raise another $500 they will add an excursion to the iconic Incan citadel Machu Picchu) to pay for the trip. In addition to their individual fundraising efforts, they are hosting a group holiday craft show and flea market Verschuren Centre for Sustainability in Energy and the Environment at Cape Breton University on Dec. 7 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with all money raised going toward the trip.
Admission is $2 or a food bank donation and there will be a table where people can donate clothing. Vendor tables are $10 each and people can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.