Each morning Renee and Rex Benoit wonder what challenge the day will present.
The Masstown, Colchester County, couple has fought a lengthy battle finding permanent housing for their 10-year-old son Dominick.
The couple’s story begins in Toronto where they were living at the time of Dominick’s birth. Multiple tests revealed the boy had extensive brain damage and doctors “didn’t think he’d live” and suggested the Benoits sign a do not resuscitate form, which they did.
“I went completely numb when I was told Dominick was not going to live,” Renee told TC Media.
Dominick surprised everyone.
“He should have been catatonic but was responding to everything,” Renee said, adding the couple was able to take their child home in four weeks.
The youngster was ultimately diagnosed with severe spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, epilepsy and legal blindness. He can’t talk or walk and is on a feeding tube.
“He’s 10 years old but has the physical ability of a four or five-month-old and mentally … one day he knows all and other (days) it’s like he’s a two-year old,” Renee explained.
When Dominick was seven, not enough money was coming in to cover his care, Rex was working and Renee was juggling two part-time jobs and trying to provide for Dominick, who required round-the-clock care.
“It was killing us financially and wearing us out physically,” said Renee, adding the couple made the decision to place Dominick in Evergreen Home for Special Care in Kentville, where they visited every other weekend.
“We struggled for a year with the distance. Everytime he got sick I blamed myself for not being there,” said Renee.
"Because of Dominick’s diet and medication, the tiniest change affects everything," she added. "As a very protective mom, I wanted to know everything … and I wasn’t being consulted.”
Dominick then had dental surgery in Halifax’s IWK. While there, the family was informed the youngster couldn’t return to Evergreen because “he did not have a family doctor there anymore.” According to Renee, the strained relationship between parents and doctor due to consultation issues was the issue.
“I was dumbfounded,” said Rex.
“I was in panic mode ... my son was homeless,” added Renee.
The IWK allowed Dominick to stay at the hospital until he was transferred to the Kentville Regional Hospital and a new family doctor in that community was found within two weeks.
“Then he wasn’t allowed to go back to the home because we were told he needed one-on-one care,” Renee said.
That resulted in a wait until September while staffing was found. Then, the family was told Dominick would be given three-to-one care. Renee decided Dominick wasn’t returning to Evergreen.
TC Media called Evergreen where a representative said the facility doesn’t “discuss individual cases with the media … with anyone.”
Renee has partnered with Advocating Parents of Nova Scotia and sent a letter about her situation to the Department of Health and Community Services.
According to the Benoits, Community Services presented Renee and Rex with three options: take Dominick home, place him in temporary care with Community Services and sign over their parental rights or “abandon him” and the department would take over the situation.
“I was shocked and angry. I could not believe what I was just told,” Renee said.
A department spokesperson could not be reached on the weekend.
The Benoits approached the health minister, which helped result in a small options home being located for Dominick in Bible Hill. The Benoits will not confirm the name of the facility and said it could be a few months before Dominick is placed while they prepare for his arrival.
“Things are starting to look up a year later … I can’t let go of that fear (though) because of everything we have been through,” she said.
The situation has taught the family a lesson.
“Fight for your kids. I believe fight the good fight and in the end you will see justice,” said Renee. “Do not be too passive; patience is a virtue but push for answers.”
“As long as (Dominick’s) alive there will be a fight for him,” said Rex, adding it lessens the pain “a little” if sharing their story helps other families who are enduring similar situations