For kids like Marcus Blanchard, War Amps means everything.
The support the organization provides for child amputees and their families has meant that both Marcus and his family have had the opportunity to receive the best care, and make lifelong friendships.
The War Amps will celebrate 100 years of helping people with amputations this September.
The Amputation Club of British Columbia held its first meeting on September 23, 1918. It was the first of many organizations to form in the wake of the Great War — eventually merging into a national association, the Amputations Association of the Great War.
From the start, the vision of the society was to help one another adapt to living with amputations, and to advocate for seriously disabled veterans. War Amps began by serving war amputees, but today it serves everyone — from those injured during military service to children.
The War Amps is supported through the Key Tag Service, launched in 1946 as a way to create jobs for war amputees and raise funds for the organization. When a set of keys with a War Amps key tag is lost, the person who finds them can call the number on the tag or deposit the keys into any Canadian mail box and the keys will be returned to the owner free of charge. The service has since returned more than 1.5 million sets of lost keys, and it continues to employee amputees and people with disabilities.
For Cloverdale’s Marcus, the organization has always been part of his life. His parents contacted the organization for support through the Child Amputee (CHAMP) Program shortly after he was born.
When Marcus thinks about CHAMP, he thinks about the yearly seminars, held in Vancouver, that provide a forum for child amputees to ask questions or share concerns.
“They listen and understand,” he said. The meetings don’t have a “serious” tone and kids always leave feeling good. “It’s awesome.”
At the seminars, they “talk about how to do things,” he said. “Tying my shoes,” he gave as an example. “At first I could barely do it. Now I can do it in a matter of seconds.”
Marcus has also made a lot of friends in the CHAMP program — all arm amputees, like himself. “They’re great people to be with. Really, really good friends. You find similarities. You can ask, ‘How do you cope?’”
One of the biggest highlights of being a CHAMP was when he got his electric prothetic about four years ago. “It’s an arm that can move and do more things …hold things, grip things,” he said. “It opens a lot of doors.”
As well as his electric prosthetic, Marcus has a passive arm, which is used for appearance and balance. He explained that without it, there would be a significant weight imbalance, which can be uncomfortable and lead to health issues later in life.
Marcus often volunteers with the CHAMP program, walking in parades such as the Steveston Salmon Festival or the Cloverdale Rodeo parade, and meeting dignitaries.
He recently had the chance to meet Cloverdale-Langley City MP John Aldag, to present him with a Canada Post commemorative envelope in honour of the War Amps 100th anniversary. Meeting Aldag while representing War Amps “helped me build a bit of confidence,” said Marcus.
War Amps has also had a significant impact on Marcus’ parents.
The first CHAMP seminar the Blanchard family attended was in Victoria, when Marcus was a one-year-old. “You show up there, you walk in, you don’t know what the hell you’re doing,” said Marcus’ dad, Lee.
“It’s just love,” he said. “You walk in and there’s everybody going through what you are.”
For a long time, he said, he thought it was too good to be true. He constantly searched for a “marketing scheme,” asking himself, “What’s their angle?”
War Amps helps families in many ways, including providing financial support.
Marcus’ electric prosthetic costs about $25,000, and his standard arm costs around $5,000. He is on his fifth standard arm, and will soon need a second electric, “and he’s only 12,” said Lee.
Although Lee and his wife have good medical coverage, which picks up a lot of the cost, “CHAMP picks up the rest.”
But perhaps the most important support that War Amps gives is a community of people going through similar experiences.
CHAMP kids tend to have “larger than life personalities” Lee said. And, in his experience, everyone he has met through the program — whether it be an amputee or their friends or family — is someone you can connect with immediately.
“You’re talking to a real person. Nothing is made up. Nothing held back. They’re real. They have to deal with the real thing,” he said.
Marcus, too, understands the value of having the support of a community. His advice for other child amputees is to “stay strong, and, if you haven’t already, to sign up for the CHAMP program.”
“It’s an amazing program,” he said. “It helps you, it helps your family, and it supports you along the way.”