Yesterday I met a remarkable person while visiting the COPD clinic at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver. Meet Trish Verrier.
To see this vibrant 65 year old with hair as red as her scooter and a smile that lights up the room, one doesn’t detect any signs of the sadness or pain she’s endured. Nor does one hear many complaints – which says a lot considering her very serious, and sometimes scary, lung condition. I had to learn more.
Trish grew up in Thunder Bay, where she had suffered neglect and abuse at the hands of her father, leaving no mystery as to why by 18, she ran away to Vancouver.
Determined to forge a better life, Trish vowed once she had enough money she would help her mother come out West too, but her mother passed before she could.
Sadly no sooner had Trish’s new life started, when bad health began to hold her back. As it happened, Trish spent much of her adult life in and out of hospital beds, struggling to manage her pain, and by her forties, to cope with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and related breathing difficulties.
“My life was no cakewalk, that’s for sure. And I didn’t always feel as content as I feel now,” she said. “In fact I could get pretty low. But one day a few years ago now, I decided to look at my life differently. I remember when it happened. It was November and bitterly cold. I was at my local clinic and this homeless man wandered in. He didn’t have a coat and he was clearly freezing. I don’t why, but something triggered. I began to see all my struggles as victories, I realized I had a lot to give and no time to lose. As a result my world has become a much happier place.”
Since that November night, Trish has visited more than 100 stores and succeeded in raising thousands of dollars’ worth of donations in warm clothing and food for the homeless, and her work continues today. She constantly encourages friends and neighbours to donate what they can, and herself crochets scarves for women in need. She has also established a program she calls ‘Hugs for Life.’
“Everyone needs a hug,” said Trish. “Even if it’s from somehow they don’t know.” Through ‘Hugs for Life’ Trish aims to provide some comfort and cheer (along with small stuffed animals) to patients alone in hospital, not unlike she often was for so many years.
It’s easy when interacting with Trish to forget she has a debilitating lung condition which can make even walking across the room an impossible chore. To get around Trish relies on her electric scooter, and to breathe, on a range of medications and inhalers.
“To be honest, my COPD can be very scary. It makes me remember the fear I had as a child; the fear of not having family to protect me, the fear of not being able to breathe – but that same feeling is a reminder to be thankful for every day I’m still here, and for all the kindness I receive.”
Trish may not have relatives to watch over her, but she is very grateful for the friends she does have – including her COPD support team. She calls her respiratory nurse, Beth Hutchins, a lifesaver, “I called Beth for help recently and she came right over. If Beth hadn’t come and found out I had taken too many pills, I would have died. I am so thankful.” (Read more about Trish’s COPD support team, and what they do to support patients like Trish.)
My visit with Trish had barely begun, when it came to an end and Trish leaned over to give me one of her hallmark hugs.
She said she hopes her story will inspire others. “Please tell people, I’m proof it’s never too late to make a difference.”
Then off Trish motored, into the pouring rain – one truly inspiring lady with red hair, a red scooter, a killer attitude and a great big green umbrella.