Long recovery for former Kap man
Vacation in Belize almost deadly for Denis Turcotte

Mark Gentili
Wednesday June 11, 2008

Back to main page — They were supposed to enjoy their time in Belize diving with whale sharks and looking for a place to spend a couple of months next winter.

But that vacation nearly turned tragic for former Kapuskasing resident Denis Turcotte and his 36-year-old son Alden. On April 21, while snorkeling Mr. Turcotte was struck by a boat in the leg and the head.

What was to be a 60th birthday present to himself turned into a nightmare for the retired x-ray technician, who worked with his wife Alrae at both Sensenbrenner Hospital in Kapuskasing and Notre-Dame Hospital in Hearst before relocating to Tillsonberg some 30 years ago.

Mr. Turcotte is still in University Hospital in London, Ontario, recovering from a fifth operation to his leg.

“He is doing fairly well. He is still in bed,” said Kap resident Ron Turcotte, Denis’ brother.

On April 21, Mr. Turcotte and his son went snorkeling and fishing with a cousin and a friend. Later on in the day, with Alden remaining on the boat nursing a headache, the three went into the water in an area designated for diving.

A boat came racing through the area. It missed the other two men, but struck Mr. Turcotte, slicing into his brain and shattering his leg.

Strangely, here is where the injured man fell into an extended period of luck -- if it can be called luck.

The divers managed to wave down another boat, which just happened to contain a doctor and two nurses. CPR had to be performed on him as they raced to shore.

Nearly two hours later they arrived at the nearest hospital, where a British helicopter just happened to have landed, ensuring a fast flight to a major hospital in Belize City.

At that hospital, there just happened to be one of the country’s top neurosurgeons. Such a good job was done in Belize, that only one surgery needed to be performed on Mr. Turcotte’s brain, save for installing shunts to drain fluid and relieve pressure on his brain.

“He had guardian angels with him from the moment he was struck,” Ron’s wife, Helen, said. “He does have aphasia. He can speak, but what he says doesn’t make sense.”

Mrs. Turcotte clarified that, actually, saying he could say “yes” and “no”, as well as two favourite curse words.

After being airlifted from Belize to Miami, where he underwent two more surgeries on his leg, Mr. Turcotte was flown to London on May 7. Last Friday, a surgery was done to graft muscle and skin from his right thigh to his left leg.

Doctors expect he can be transferred to a rehabilitation hospital in London in a month or so. Months of rehab will follow to get him back on that leg, which is actually over an inch shorter since the accident.

A speech therapist is working with him as well, and Mrs. Turcotte said his doctor has told the family that it could take two years for him to recover from the aphasia.

The community of Tillsonberg has rallied around the family. Volunteer firefighters organized a boot drive. The Knights of Columbus and other organizations in the community also contributed to the cause.

The family hopes he will be home by Christmas.