Chair of life
Seven-year-old back in driver's seat

by Jennifer Pritchett
Northern News Services

NNSL (Mar 17/97) - A seven-year-old Taloyoak girl who has been carried in her mother's amauti since birth may soon have a wheelchair to call her own.

The community of 500 has collected more than 27,000 pop pull-tabs since November in an attempt to raise enough money to buy Mary Jane Ukuqtunnuaq a wheelchair.

And last week their support drew the attention of a southern philanthropist who has agreed to donate a new chair.

As of last Thursday, however, Mary Jane's mom, Julia, didn't know about the chair and was still urging her friends to collect pull-tabs.

"It's going to take a long time -- at least until next year to get enough," she said.

"We would like other communities to help out."

The community has now decided to continue collecting the tabs -- even though Mary Jane is getting a wheelchair -- to help other children who aren't as fortunate.

Julia has been carrying her daughter around in her amauti -- Mary Jane was born with improperly formed legs -- except when she's at school, where she's had a wheelchair for the past year.

"She's got a wheelchair in her classroom, but it stays in school," she said. "She can't take the wheelchair home because of the road."

Julia said that a new wheelchair would help give the child some independence and enable her to go out with her friends more.

"When she wants to go out, I put her on my back and we go out together near our home," she said. "But she would be happier if she had another chair. She couldn't walk since she was born."

A second chair would also save her mother's back.

"She must weigh about 70- or 80-something pounds," said Julie. "I'm used to it, but she is getting heavier. So I can't do this for much longer."

Help for the Ukuqtunnuaq family started to pour in from as far away as Ontario in recent days.

Jack Baumber, who started a pop pull-tab program in Elora, Ont., said they were prepared to donate the rest of the million pop tabs needed for Mary Jane's wheelchair.

The Elora Legion pop tab fund gets $1 a kilogram for the tabs, and 2,000 tabs make up a kilogram.

The organization has raised enough money for 154 wheelchairs since it began in 1989.

But Baumber said the process has sped up a little since a Hamilton-based company has said it will donate the wheelchair.

"Ron Richards of Dream Catcher Medical Ltd. has donated a chair," he said. "We have to get the measurements and we'll go from there."

For Mary Jane, whose birthday wish last Wednesday was to have a new wheelchair, it's a dream come true.