Benefit to help man suffering from Lyme disease
Once was a time when local drummer Gary Paquin played the skins six nights a week, virtually yearround, and made a decent living performing with local bands and touring with name bands such as Matt Minglewood and the late Terry Sumsion. He was skilled, loved music, loved the career, the people, the lifestyle, although he admittedly loved the latter a tad too much. And when that jeopardous existence caught up with him, he did the right thing and sought help, got his life back on track, and played clean and sober the next 20 years.
Then in 2013, his health started to inexplicably spiral downwards, unravelling slowly at first, then regressing with alarming alacrity, and this time the problem wasn’t “self-inflicted.” As the weeks and months passed, his condition worsened to the point he could no longer make it through one song, let alone an entire set.
Now 57, the once-tireless “tubthumper” who gigged with bands some 300 days a year in his salad days can only play for a few minutes, and even that pushes the pain envelope. He rarely plays anyway, focused instead on something eminently more important — namely, staying alive.
The culprit behind his torment? A bite from a tiny tick that, Paquin suspects, hitched a ride into his Sydenham residence aboard one of his cats roughly five years ago. The drummer developed Lyme disease, and later Parkinson’s, and his life has been a living hell ever since.
“I started feeling fatigued for no reason and my eyes got tired and I began having trouble seeing,” the local native recounted the early symptoms. He never saw the tick, never even knew where it bit him, as there was no sign of the telltale ring that forms around the bite mark afterwards. “I generally just felt unwell and couldn’t figure out why.”
Initial tests for the disease came back negative, yet his health continued to deteriorate. Frustrated by the delayed diagnosis, two years later, on his own dime, he had himself tested at a special lab in California. The results revealed enough positive markers to classify the problem as Lyme disease, which had been given a dangerous head start.
Once home, Paquin had a PICC line inserted and commenced a 21-day antibiotic treatment, which had little overall effect. “It was a joke,” he stated flatly.
He continued to suffer recurring muscle freezing, tremors and cramping. He put his musician career on hold. “The brain was saying go ahead and play, but my body wouldn’t let me.”
To complicate matters further, he was soon after diagnosed with Parkinson’s. “I took mainstream pharmaceuticals, but all they did was make me sick and put me in hospital three different times.”
Visits to a naturopath provided some relief, he noted, but he was really no better, and in fact getting worse.
Meanwhile, the medical bills kept mounting, between $500 and $600 monthly out-of-pocket costs, and the latest expense is a patientfunded, one-time cost of $10,000 for an upcoming stem cell treatment in Vancouver.
“I’ve sold my vehicles, my musical instruments, used my savings, what investments I had, pretty much liquidated as much as I possibly could just to keep up with the bills,” he pointed out. “I’ve also received wonderful help from my family and local musicians, for which I’m very grateful.”
Speaking of the latter, dozens of them will be Zorbas Banquet Facility on Sunday, Nov. 18, for a benefit in support of the popular drummer, who will undergo the stem cell procedure the following day in Vancouver.
“The poor guy is completely 180 degrees from where he used to be,” noted longtime friend Ted Young, who years ago played with Paquin in the band Hickory Wind.
“He’s the best drummer I ever played with as far as timing, beat, improvising, rhythm, things like that. For most people, music is a hobby; for Gary, it’s a profession, one that’s been taken away from him.”
The stem cell treatment, according to the Vancouver Stem Cell Treatment Centre’s website, is described as a “complex process in which a patient’s own cells are harvested and used to fight against degeneration, inflammation and general issue damage.” The objective is to “restore function and reduce pain.
The treatment is not covered under health insurance, nor is there any sure-fire guarantee it will work.
“Gary’s been struggling far too long with this,” lamented Ernie Smith, co-organizer of the benefit at Zorbas who back in the day played with Paquin’s dad, Fred, in the Fred Paquin Orchestra. “It’s a crying shame to see what that Lyme disease has done to an otherwise ambitious, likable fellow who also happens to be one hell of a musician.”
Paquin and percussion were introduced when he was 11. He was hooked from the get-go. “My dad’s band would play the [Prince George Hotel] on Saturday nights and I’d be there Sunday morning helping to tear down the equipment and I’d get to fool around on the drums.”
His interest spiked in high school at Frontenac Secondary School, where he learned to read and write music and started jamming in friends’ basements before joining his dad’s band, Special Blend, at age 16. He started his own band, the four-piece Rockin’ Horse, and later toured with Sumsion and Minglewood, the latter for three years.
Life on the road, however, exacted a steep toll. “I fell into the rock ‘n’ roll pitfalls,” he recalled candidly, “and I crashed in ’93 from alcohol and drug abuse.” He entered a detox unit, straightened out and has sampled neither product since.
A Type 1 diabetic most of his life, in 1993 he also started experiencing diabetes-related vision impairment and underwent multiple laser procedures in a span of six months. “I liken myself to the cat with nine lives,” he said, laughing lightly. “I’ve used up a few, bouncing back from so many things.”
The Zorbas benefit is billed Gary Paquin’s Lyme Disease Fight. Ernie Smith came up with a poignant subtitle by tinkering with a timehonoured adage. “You’ve heard the saying, ‘a friend in need is a friend indeed,’” he said. “Well, I just switched around a couple of words: ‘A Friend Indeed is a Friend in Need.’ We’ll get it going at 1 p.m. and run until 6…7…8 o’clock, whatever it takes.”
Co-organizer Rick Pilon, another fast friend and Paquin’s bandmate in Printer’s Alley, said he empathizes with his pal’s struggles. In 2007, Pilon was stricken with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rapidonset muscle weakness caused by the immune system damaging the peripheral nervous system.
“Like Gary, it was something that happened to me right out of the blue,” said the versatile musician who temporarily lost the ability to play his instruments, though he eventually recovered. “I know what he’s going through. It’s pretty scary for a musician.”
Paquin’s last band before he set aside the sticks was one fronted by Kingston native Rob Carnegie, who for 10 years moonlighted as the city’s director of tourism, a title he now holds in Florence, Ga.
“Gary’s an outstanding drummer and an outstanding individual who worked hard and always tried to give back,” Carnegie said. “For the discipline and courage he showed in turning his life around, I admire him not just as a musician but as an individual and a friend.” A friend in need. (A GoFundMe page has been set up for Paquin at www.gofundme. com/gary-paquin039s-lymeparkinson. )
Brian Paquin of Sydenham shows off his drumming skills in Kingston on Thursday November, 8 2018.