Mike Hawkins addresses the Comox Valley Gizeh Shriners at their final meeting of the 2013/2014 campaign. Mike estimates that the Shriners’ contribution to his son’s medical expenses was greater than $12 million.

A $12 million debt of gratitude

Comox Valley man says he will never be able to repay the Shriners for their help

When a guest speaker opens with the phrase “I owe you $12,786,000,” it gets a crowd’s attention.

The room fell silent as Mike Hawkins was introduced to the final Gizeh Shrine Club, Comox Valley meeting of the 2013/2014 cycle. Those in attendance were all ears, as Mike addressed the group and gave thanks to the Shriners for all the work they do for children.

Mike’s story is a sad one.

His stepson, Joe Philion, was severely burned in a fire, 26 years ago, in Cumberland Beach, Ontario. Joe suffered third- and fourth-degree burns to 90 per cent of his body, when he ran into his burning home, searching for family members. He had already saved his brother from the flames and had returned into the carnage looking for his mother, who had left the house just minutes before the fire started, to drive her husband to work.

Joe spent five years at the Shriners’ Children’s Hospital in Boston, before the family moved to the Comox Valley.

There is no happy ending to this story.

A quarter of a century later, Joe resides at St. Joseph’s Hospital, living, but with very little quality of life.

Joe’s mom, Linda Hawkins, died of cancer in 2010, one year after the death of her youngest son, who perished when he and a friend experimented with some of Joe’s medications.

“That Joe, he is the toughest little bugger I have ever met in my entire life,” said Mike. “Honestly. He’s so tough. It’s unbelievable.”

Mike says if there is a positive to take out of all this, it’s the work that the Shriners do.

“Obviously I could never repay the Shriners for the work they do, but it is incredible work and please, please keep it up,” he told the members in attendance. “Without the Shriners’ help, he would have never survived – we would have never survived. Family is so important and that’s what the Shriners are all about. They are the best organization in the world.”

For more information on the Gizeh Shrine Club, Comox Valley, their work, or how to get involved, call Nick Uluorta at 250-897-0516.




–With files from The Toronto Star


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