Matthew La Fortune
Matthew La Fortune’s easy smile and gentle manner are the first things you notice when you meet him and they come as a surprise, considering the many trials he has had to overcome in his lifetime.
Matthew lived at home with his family until he was eighteen years old. Hi mother, Pauline McGraw, found it tough to move Matthew out of the home, especially since he was handicapped. She says that the bond between a handicapped child and parent is extremely strong; special needs bring you very close.
Life was hectic for his family when Matthew was first born. He spent the first five years of his life in the hospital. Pauline was told to say her goodbyes as he was not likely to pull through. Doctors predicted that Matthew would die from severe asthma by the time he was thirteen. The family moved to the Grande Prairie area, where the climate helped to ease his asthma. Friends and neighbours were shy at first until they met Matthew. Local hearsay was that he was deformed, so that had to be overcome.
Pauline had to push to get help because Matthew was labeled with “global development delay.” To her, that wasn’t an answer. “What does that tell me? That tells me nothing.” She searched for six years to get a proper diagnosis. The situation improved once she knew what condition she was dealing with.
When Matthew was school age, the Public School in Beaverlodge included him in the classroom with kids his own age. He stayed in Grade One for two or three years until he got too big, then moved on to Grade Three. The other students became very familiar with him. Staff was able to tailor a program for Matthew and he took part in classroom activities and field trips.
Matthew has a fantastic memory. Pauline says he has memories from when he was three years old. She took lots of pictures as he was growing up so that she would have a point of reference when talking with Matthew about the past. She says Matthew loves to type and is a Star Trek fanatic.
Now that he has been living away from home for a time, Matthew prefers to stay at his new home rather than stay with his parents. He prefers his own routine and “stuff.” For Pauline, the fact that Matthew now has his own separate life was “tough to realize.” It has taken a long time for her to adjust to being apart from him.
Pauline says one of the most important steps for parents with a handicapped child to take is to ensure they have some support in place. “Anything can be achieved, but not with out a support network.”