She was just 25 when I met her in 1981. A spunky, larger-than-life goldsmith with a wicked sense of humour, Big Hair and a loud, cheery voice, Laura Beard had the world by the tail.
All was great, except for a pain in her neck and arms that was aggravated by her work making and repairing antique jewellery. X-rays showed an anomaly in her neck bones that accounted for her pain. I treated her with acupuncture and got a great result, first treatment, with her lying down. She was very responsive to acupuncture. In fact, when I treated her sitting in a chair on her second visit, she promptly fainted.
It wasn’t that she was afraid of needles. Laura is just really sensitive to acupuncture’s effects, including usually-beneficial impacts on the autonomic nervous system, which can lower blood pressure. In fact, during the first 25 years I treated her with acupuncture, she averaged fewer than four treatments a year. The treatments had long-lasting effects that allowed her to continue the work she loved, but there is also a lot of grit and determination in her character. Luckily, Laura is a strong and determined woman, because 11 years ago her world turned upside down.
A message from Laura’s mom in January 2007, informed us that Laura had broken her neck in a fall while away on holiday and she was in the Critical Care Unit at Sunnybrook. Luckily, she had purchased comprehensive travel insurance that paid to airlift her to a good hospital in Jamaica and then flew her to Florida for excellent surgical care. It also paid for her husband, David Hustler, to fly from Toronto to be with her. David was an exceptional man, a perfect partner to support and care for her.
Laura and David lived on Algonquin Island, one of Toronto’s islands that is accessible only by watercraft, usually the ferry that plows back and forth, weather permitting. David, an “Island Boy”, had grown up there and thrived in the quirky island community renowned for its mutual support of their own. He was known for his dry sense of humour, his artistic creativity and his undying love for Laura. They met at George Brown College in 1978, where they both were studying jewellery arts and were married in 1983.
For most of her first decade using a wheelchair, Laura was fortunate to have a wonderful nurse, Olga Marunga, with her a lot of the time, since David’s work insurance covered her care. She became one of the family over time, appreciated by all for her knowledge, her intelligence, her warm and sunny personality and her wisdom.
Olga and other caregivers were there to attend to Laura during the daytime but it was David who turned her at night and took care of her personal care until his own health issues made it impossible. David had a kidney transplant at the young age of 21 that kept him well and functional for most of 40 years. Tragically, he passed away in July of 2017, of cancer related to his anti-rejection treatment. This was a huge loss to Laura and to everyone who knew him.
Since David’s death, Laura has been cared for by a team of wonderful Island Women who take turns “putting her to bed” and she has several other caregivers who come to her and make it possible for her to stay on the Island for now. Regrettably, it is getting harder all the time to find personal support people who are willing to travel to this jewel of a place.
Since 2007, I have continued to treat Laura with acupuncture and nutritional advice that is important for her comfort and well-being. She takes the ferry on her own to the mainland, speeds along to Sherbourne Street in her chair and boards a TTC bus to my clinic once every few weeks. We catch up while I treat her with acupuncture to reduce pain, lift her mood, and even help with her hemorrhoids (yes, an acupuncture point on the top of your head can actually help with that!).
As spunky, optimistic, strong, likeable people go, Laura Beard is a star. She is an inspiration to many of us who have been privileged to know her, in my case for 37 years.