How Bear Essentials supports the comfort, inclusion, and independence of Island kid Owen

Bear Essentials program Karena and Owen Crumpler

In many ways, 11-year-old Owen is like a lot of kids his age: he loves going to school, playing with his brother Max, and going to the beach with his family. He also lives with cerebral palsy, and as a complex kid, Owen has some complex needs.

That’s where Bear Essentials comes in. The Bear Essentials program has supported the Crumpler family by ensuring Owen has access to the specialized equipment he needs to be comfortable, safe, and included.

This is their story.

When Owen was born

In 2008, Mike and Karena Crumpler were living in Comox and expecting their first child. Everything went smoothly during Karena’s pregnancy, so it was a complete surprise when she went into early labour. She was almost 26 weeks pregnant.

Owen was born in Comox on Valentine’s Day, more than three months early and weighing just two pounds, two ounces. He was tiny. He couldn’t breathe on his own and his eyes were closed like a newborn puppy’s. Right away, Owen was transported to Vancouver. It was here that Owen had a development brain scan and that’s when the Crumplers learned that Owen would be living with cerebral palsy.

“We didn’t know the severity or complexity of it, but we knew we were going to have to start the good fight ASAP,” says Karena.

Mike and Karena were with Owen in Vancouver for a total of 104 days before returning home to the Island. In those early days, the Crumplers received support from various organizations that receive funding from the Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island. YANA (You Are Not Alone) ensured the Crumplers had a place to stay while they were in Vancouver, relieving them of at least a little stress while away from home. And back home in Comox, Owen also went through early intervention at the Comox Valley Child Development Association.

How Bear Essentials first helped Owen

YANA continued to offer the Crumplers support after those first few months. YANA let Mike and Karena know about Bear Essentials, and how the program could fund much-needed equipment for Owen.

This was especially important for the Crumplers by the time Owen was five years old, as he was wearing supportive Ankle and Foot Orthoses (AFOs). Because Owen isn’t able to strengthen his leg muscles by walking unassisted, the AFOs support his muscles and tendons, keeping his bones in alignment and stopping his leg muscles from getting too tight. They also prevent pain.

At least, they should. But Owen was wearing big, plastic AFOs, and because of his muscle spasticity, the AFOs would dig into his legs and cause him pain. In 2013, Bear Essentials funded soft AFOs that Karena sourced from Europe. As well as offering Owen that much-needed support, they didn’t cause him any discomfort.

That first experience the Crumplers had with Bear Essentials was incredibly positive. Bear Essentials relieved the family of a potential financial burden and the application process was smooth-sailing. And the AFOs also arrived in a matter of weeks.

“It was just a relief knowing that there was somebody else watching out for us. Knowing that there are alternatives out there, without all the red tape,” says Karena.

Bear Essentials enhances inclusivity and independence

In 2015, the Crumplers moved to Victoria to be closer to a bigger health care centre for Owen. After his hip surgery in 2016, Bear Essentials funded a form-fitting and easy-to-transport specialized car seat for Owen. As well as supporting Owen’s safety and comfort, this piece of equipment allows Owen and his family to do countless family activities together.

“We use the car seat for everything. We put it in his off-road wheelchair so we can go down to the beach. It allows him to sit in the back seat of the car with his brother Max, instead of in his wheelchair,” says Karena. “It allows him to be out there with his brother.”

Thanks to Bear Essentials, the family can enjoy corn mazes and walks on the beach, activities that previously were difficult to enjoy together as a family. Simply, Bear Essentials made it easier for Owen to be included.

“I know it sounds strange that a car seat is so life-changing,” says Mike. “But you’ve got to be adaptable when you have kids like Owen.”

Later this year, Mike and Karena hope Bear Essentials will also offer help that will enhance Owen’s independence. The Crumplers hope to purchase a specialized power wheelchair: Owen would be able to move the chair himself using head switches and also move himself from seating to standing positions.

Bear Essentials helps Island families

Both Mike and Karena know their lives would be different without Bear Essentials.

“With Bear Essentials, there’s no gloom over thinking about something that Owen might need that we can’t get. There’s a little bit of hope there,” says Karena.

“You want to try and do everything you can for your child and it’s awful to get handcuffed because of cost. So it’s nice to know that Bear Essentials is there,” adds Mike.

For families like the Crumplers, Bear Essentials is much more than a funding program. It’s a support system that cares for Island kids and Island families.Thanks to the support of generous donors like you, families like Crumpler’s can continue to receive the health care they need. You can support programs like Bear Essentials by making a gift to the Kids First Fund today.

Learn more about the program here