Talent already booked for future North Vancouver date!

Erica Harris and Jowi with Voyageur Erica Harris would have stood out in the Grand Hall at the Canadian Museum of History anyway. With her shock of punky jet-black hair and her bright red strapless dress she provided a bit of accent to the prevailing evening wear - though I admit I'm a bit surprised that more people attending the Canadian Blood Service's Honouring Our Lifeblood awards gala didn't wear red! She and her mother were seated at the same table as myself, emcee Henry Burris, honouree Breezy Russ and her partner and a couple of folks from the staff and board of CBS. But Erica also stood out because she was in attendance not as a staffer or volunteer or donor but rather as a recipient and she would tell her story as the final speech of the evening.

During dinner we discovered a Northern Ontario connection: she hails from Sault Ste. Marie though she now calls North Vancouver home with her husband and two young boys. I warmed to her no-B.S. attitude and energy and she really reminded me of my friend Karyn Ruiz, the extraordinary milliner who also hails from The Soo. We didn't really discuss our respective topics - figuring all would be revealed on stage. When I exited the stage from my turn she was super effusive about my presentation and I was eager to hear what she had to say to wrap things up. Honestly, her story just kind of blew me away. She had been a fit and healthy young mom, a professional chiropractor and kinesiologist living the classic Vancouver lifestyle when she got the surprising diagnosis of a very aggressive form of leukaemia and, soon, a two month prognosis after a series of unsuccessful treatments and explorations. An eventual bone marrow match and transplant from a donor in Germany gave her new hope just in time to be diagnosed with a double lung failure. But she was lucky to receive a double lung transplant AND successfully fight the leukaemia. Her experience has not only made her a champion of blood and organ donation but also given her insight into the layers of medical, technological, nutritional and spiritual elements that go into surviving overwhelming illness. She now shares her unique perspective through her organization With Hope, offering inspiration, support and the tools to navigate the gale of information and opinions confronting those facing severe health challenges - and their loved ones - just when they feel least equipped to handle them. The symbol for her organization is a stylized oak tree based on the one in front of her childhood house in The Soo that she thought of to give herself strength when it was otherwise in short supply.

We didn't get a chance to say goodbye properly as the busses came to take folks back to the hotel and I stayed behind to take a few photos with people and pack up. So we connected Tuesday morning for breakfast at Dunn's where I got the full story from Erica and her mom and discovered that they were of Finnish heritage and were well acquainted with the Hoito Restaurant in Thunder Bay, which represents the Finnish community there in the form of a couple of interior side struts in Voyageur. Erica vowed that she was going to learn to play guitar well enough to properly play this one next time I find myself in North Vancouver. So come on Vancouver: I haven't presented there in a long while. It's time to bring me out again!

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