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Son’s story is mother’s mission: “If I can reach just one person”

March 16, 2016

This photograph, taken at a family Christmas party just weeks before the tragic accident, is the last time Johanna LeRoux posed with her son, Micheal Fisher. Photo: Johanna LeRoux
Steps of Life participants wear highly visible, bright yellow t-shirts to raise awareness of workplace safety. Photo: Threads of Life/Steps for Life
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It’s a cliché that becomes a truism: life can change in a split second. For Johanna LeRoux, life as she knew it was derailed when she received a phone call at her workplace in Barrie, Ontario, on Thursday afternoon, January 19, 2006. Her 22-year-old son, Micheal Fisher, who worked as a roofer, had been injured at a subdivision construction site in nearby Innisfil. He had fallen nearly three storeys from the top of a ladder.  A colleague drove the anxious LeRoux to Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, where Fisher had been airlifted. Sunnybrook has a world-renown trauma unit, and that’s where LeRoux and her family spent the next six days, riding a hellish roller coaster of hope and fear. Micheal died on January 25, 2006. He never regained consciousness.

LeRoux has become accustomed to talking about her son’s accident and death, as well as her journey of grief and healing, during which she’s continued to be mom to Fisher’s two sisters, Jasmine and Krystal, who were 13 and 18 years old when they lost their brother. LeRoux is now one of the volunteer speakers with Threads of Life, a national charity that supports families and loved ones in the aftermath of a workplace tragedy, and strives to eliminate life-altering injuries, illnesses and death in the workplace.  With “life matters most” as one of our company’s core values, it’s fitting that we have become one of the biggest supporters of Threads of Life.

“We’ve been so pleased to have Vale as a national sponsor for our annual Steps for Life awareness walks held across Canada,’ says Susan Haldane, manager, marketing and communications at Threads for Life. “That has helped immensely to raise awareness of workplace safety. Then we were so heartened in 2015 when Vale extended support to include funding for the Family Forums and the vital Speakers’ Bureau.”  In fact, some of our colleagues at Copper Cliff Mine in Sudbury got to hear LeRoux’s story last year when she spoke to staff during a workplace safety event.

It’s through sharing Micheal’s story that he lives and helps to put a stop to workplace accidents and death.

It’s this Vale-supported Speakers Bureau that enables LeRoux, and others who have suffered workplace tragedies, to share their stories. LeRoux shares hers candidly, not shying away from the details of Micheal’s accident and how his death could have been avoided. She talks openly about the way Micheal landed on the back of his head and how working alone on one side of the steep peaked roof meant no coworkers saw him fall. She speaks matter-of-factly about his surgeries, the swelling of his brain, and invasive procedures on his skull. LeRoux is equally candid about why her son fell. “It was concluded by the investigation and through the coroner’s inquest that my son, who was always safety-conscious, climbed down from the ladder to fix his nail gun which had jammed, and removed his safety harness while he was on the ground. The assumption at the end of both the Ministry of Labour investigation and Coroner’s Inquest was that he climbed back up the ladder just to test the nail gun – but without putting his harness back on.  It’s believed Micheal slipped as he reached the top of the ladder.”

For LeRoux, her sense of purpose never varies. “Whenever I get up and talk to a group, whether it’s 10 people at a safety committee meeting or in front of 500 at a healthy and safety conference, I always tell myself that if I can reach just one person, and it changes the way they think about their own safety and the people they’re responsible for, then it’s all worth it. It’s through sharing Micheal’s story that he lives and helps to put a stop to workplace accidents and death.”

Also important are the Family Forums, which our company supports as well.  As Haldane explained, “These weekend events are held annually in Ontario, Nova Scotia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Families who have been affected by a workplace tragedy come together for a weekend of sharing, healing, workshops and sessions on how to navigate a workplace accident investigation. Talking about their loss is part of their healing. For parents, especially, it’s become a club – but a club they never wanted to join.”

On a beautifully written Web site tribute to her son, LeRoux quotes famous actor Gregory Peck, who also lost a young son: “I don’t think of him every day. I think of him every hour of every day.”

To learn more about Threads for Life or to support their upcoming fundraiser, Steps for Life Walk, please click here.

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