Ryerson dance student paralyzed after swimming accident in Cuba

A swimming accident has paralyzed a promising dance student vacationing in Cuba.

Napu Boychuk, 29, was in his fourth and final year of study at Ryerson University’s dance program.

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He studied jazz, contemporary and modern styles, but ballet was his first love.

“He’s a very talented and a very passionate dancer,” said Peggy Shannon, chair of Ryerson’s theatre school. “What that means, being in his final year, is that he’s gone through four years of rigorous dance training.”

Boychuk was on vacation with his father and sister when he was caught by a strong ocean undertow and hit a rock, shattering his neck and leaving him paralyzed.

“He’s been on assisted breathing for the last 35 days or so,” said Boychuk’s friend, Sean Connor. “He’s making a lot of progress. He’s able to breathe on his own for extended periods of time now.

“From what I understand, he has feeling in both of his arms and legs, which is very encouraging, but unfortunately, he’s unable to use either at this point.”

Boychuk, who was born in Yellowknife and raised in Iqaluit, may be the only Inuk ballet dancer in the world. And the communities are rallying to help him.

In Iqaluit, they’ve already raised $11,000 to help pay for Boychuk’s rehabilitation. Connor said staff at Scallywags Bar in Toronto where Boychuk worked are planning a fundraiser for him on Friday.

Ryerson’s theatre and dance school is also planning weekend benefits. There is also a Facebook page dedicated to helping Boychuk’s recovery.

“Anybody who knows Napu knows that he’s one of the happiest, kindest guys… We’re really encouraged that the strength of his spirit will help carry him through this,” Connor said.

Travel insurance cut off

Boychuk still faces months of rehabilitation. He is currently receiving treatment in Cuba, where he hopes to stay until he is fit to return to Canada. But that is causing problems with the travel insurance coverage that is helping his family pay for treatment.

The insurance provider cut of Boychuck’s coverage when his family refused to have him flown back to Canada for treatment.

But Boychuk’s family says he is in no condition to fly.

“The insurance wanted Napu flown out the very next day after his operation and we were told by the Canadian Embassy that the last young man who was flown out with a spinal cord injury died in flight,” said Dan Boychuk, the dancer’s father.

Boychuk’s insurance provider said it would no longer pay hospital bills after Jan. 7

Most travel insurance policies come with similar limitations. The Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association says in most cases of illness or injury, the insurance company will want to fly somebody back to their home province as soon as possible.

But Dan says the family and doctors will determine what’s best for his son.

“They’re claiming that it’s not an emergency,” he said. “They want to fly people out right away back to the host country regardless of the patient’s interests.”

Other travel insurance loopholes include having a pre-existing condition, being under the influence at the time of injury or illness, taking part in high-risk activities or simply having incomplete insurance documentation.

The Boychuk family says they will keep up the fight to have Napu’s hospital bills paid.

Ryerson University also includes travel insurance for all its students as part of tuition fees, so there’s a chance Boychuk’s hospitals could be covered by the school.

With reports from CTV Toronto’s Pauline Chan and Pat Foran


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