Living with muscular dystrophy isn’t easy but for Dave Maitland, it’s certainly possible with a mix of grit, determination and a positive outlook.
Maitland was diagnosed with a form of muscular dystrophy (MD) called limb-girdle that was progressive at the age of 30. At the time he said he was well into his career as a forest technician with the B.C. Forest Service based out of Williams Lake, where he’s lived most of his life next to a brief stint on Vancouver Island.
His form of MD is a genetic one, meaning both of his parents were carriers but unaffected by the disease, as it’s a recessive gene. In essence, he said MD attacks his muscles and causes them to deteriorate, while his form of MD attacks his limbs in particular. Finding out his sudden bouts of weakness was MD was very shocking for Maitland, he said, as neither of his parents knew it was in the family.
“It was tough to take and surprising but you know all you can do is accept something like that and continue to figure out ways to challenge it,” Maitland said. “Once you absorb it, it’s time to challenge it.”
Initially, early on, Maitland said he was still able to get around quite well despite his condition but over time he found his mobility hampered and had to move into doing office work for his job. He also realized that to maintain his independence and mobility, he’d have to start adapting early by starting to walk with a cane, then a forearm crutch, two forearm crutches, a walker and eventually, 10 years ago, he moved to a power wheelchair to get around. Despite all of this, Maitland just recently retired at 62 after 36 years with the forest service.
One of the first things he said he did upon learning of his diagnosis was register with Muscular Dystrophy Canada who has been supporting him throughout the last few decades of his life by facilitating doctor’s visit, helping to raise money for equipment he needed and converting his house with ramps.
The mental challenges, Maitland said, were also an important aspect of the disease to confront. It’s been important not to get down and refusing to close himself off in the dark and just stare out a window all day.
“A person can’t go backwards, they got to say to themselves: this is the way it is and just do what you can with life and enjoy it, that’s what I’ve been trying to do,” Maitland said.
Today, Maitland said he gets around with his powered wheelchair and his wheelchair-converted van, as he is no longer able to walk. Every time some new problem surfaces, Maitland said he’s viewed it as a challenge to overcome be it on his own or with the help of doctors from the Lower Mainland, his occupational therapist of 20 years Angela Laprairie in Williams Lake and his friends and family. He closely monitors the condition of his heart as it is, needless to say, the most important muscle in the body.
“My main goal in life is to maintain my independence and by doing that life can be good through all these adaptive tools that are available these days,” Maitland said.
Now at 62 Maitland said he likes to think he lives a good life and that his only real complaint is the fact the Vancouver Canucks still haven’t won a Stanley Cup. He’s been a fan since they first joined the NHL, so he said he hasn’t given up on them either and is “cautiously optimistic” for their chances in the near future.
One of the additions to his life that has been a real improvement in his quality of life has been his service dog Jasper, a seven-year-old black Labrador Retriever, from the Pacific Assistant Dog Society (PADS) based out of Burnaby, B.C. Maitland said he applied through PADS for a dog several years ago and after being on their wait list got the call he was being matched with Jasper, which was one of the greatest moments of his life.
After undergoing two weeks of training with him to learn all the rules that surround owning a service dog, Maitland returned to the lakecity with Jasper in 2015. A certified assistant/service dog, Jasper and Maitland, as a team, are licensed by the province to go everywhere together including grocery stores, restaurants and everywhere else, which they’re tested on yearly to ensure they are adhering to regulations.
Around the house, Jasper can open doors for Maitland, retrieve drinks from the fridge and other small but useful ways to make his life a little easier. In fact, he has specialized training to be around Maitland’s wheelchair so he’s able to avoid being run over by the chair.
“He works but he doesn’t work 24/7, when we’re home and he’s off the clock so to speak he can run around and act like a normal dog. It’s like night and day there’s a command for when he’s off work when we go to an off-leash dog park or someone else’s house I can give him a command and he’s off running around wagging his tail, visiting people but when he knows he’s working he keeps a very low profile,” Maitland said.
Whenever he can, Maitland said he likes supporting the Williams Lake Fire Department’s fundraising efforts to support or bring awareness to people like him living with MD. He’s tremendously grateful for all the MD Boot Drives they’ve done over the years and their most recent effort the Rooftop Campout, scheduled for Feb. 29. Whenever he can he swings down to attend their events and help cheer them on.
“It makes me feel very appreciative of them and I always have. They’ve always been there, especially the Williams Lake Fire Department I’ve known them for years and am friends with them,” Maitland said. “They’re great community supporters and I’ve even been told by some of them that if I need a hand with anything to give them a call.”
MD impacts many people beyond him, Maitland said, including children so it’s great to see fire departments both locally and across the country, work to support them all. Whenever he meets people with MD he always tells them to challenge the disease and remember that there is a lot of support out there.
“Do everything you can to enjoy your life, it can be done, and that’s what I try to say to people,” Maitland said.