Friends pitch in to help struggling Petrolia family after a fire

Submitted Photo Megan and Caius Leblanc are struggling to stay afloat after a fire in their Petrolia home. Friends are trying to raise money to help fix the home through two online fundraisers.

Megan Leblanc is scared what the future looks like.

The Petrolia woman has been dealt a string of blows, the most recent a fire in her home, and it is becoming nearly impossible to care for her son Caius, who is autistic.
Her friends are hoping to brighten her future with two fundraisers, but for Leblanc, the road ahead seems long.

Leblanc was born in West Virgina and when she was a teen, moved to Hamilton with her mother and stepfather. Around 2005, she met the man who would become her husband – Kristopher Leblanc of Petrolia.

When Leblanc was looking at options for school, Lambton College became top choice. “He was a big factor in me choosing Lambton College,” she says.

In 2008, the economy crashed and as a pipefitter, work wasn’t always steady for Kristopher. But in 2009, they found a house on Princess St. in Petrolia. By 2010, Caius had arrived.

Caius developed like a healthy toddler but Leblanc became concerned as he turned two.
“He never started talking. He had met all of his developmental milestones up until about two-ish, and then he wouldn’t talk.”

The couple took him to the doctor and he started therapy right away. Caius was later diagnosed with autism.

By 2015, Kristopher was having a hard time dealing with financial concerns. He died by suicide in a car crash, leaving Megan devastated.

Her parents moved from Hamilton to stay with her and help her with Caius. And it worked for some time.

Leblanc started looking to the future and decided to become a registered practical nurse. She graduated top of her class, proud to have figured out a way to pay for the education and support her son on her own. She started working at Meadowview Villa in Petrolia while Caius went to Queen Elizabeth II Public School.

“He was doing pretty good. His language was developing really well. He was doing really well in school, he loves going to class which is really nice. His educational assistants, they make everything amazing for him and set up his routine so that he knows what to expect and keep him busy.”

Life alone with Caius was looking up. But then in March 2020 the world shut down to fight COVID-19, and Leblanc and her son were left alone.

Leblanc was needed at Meadowview but the shift work meant it was impossible to find child care for Caius. She left work to become her son’s caregiver. By then, her parents had found their own place to live and found stepping into help difficult, particularly as Caius reached his teens.

“It’s hard for them to help, because as soon as he starts melting down, it’s too overwhelming for them to take care of because he is getting bigger and stronger,” says Leblanc.

But it was hard for the single mom, too.

Caius, now 11, was acting out. He loved going out, but was now forced to stay home for reasons he couldn’t understand. He missed school and his educational assistants. Before long, Caius was breaking anything he could find in the house including the windows in his room.

Leblanc had to resort to putting plexi glass on them so he wouldn’t hurt himself.

Before long, Caius was leaving the house when Leblanc turned her back. One day, he made his way into a neighbour’s house. She had to call the OPP because she couldn’t find him. Caius was only discovered when the neighbours came home and found him inside.
That made Leblanc even more vigilant watching her son. She would even take him to the bathroom with her because she didn’t dare let him out of her sight.

“It was just me and him in the house. I had pre-existing mental health issues, I suffer with depression, anxiety, and certainly after my husband’s death, those got worse,” she said.

“But then, during quarantine, because of constantly being on 24 hour care with Cai and needing to be hyper vigilant at all times, it certainly started making that worse as well.”

Leblanc was scrambling for help for her own mental health and for her son but found every social service agency she contacted had little to offer her.

“It is hard when you finally get to the point where you’re like, ‘Okay, I definitely need help.’ And then they’re like, ‘yeah, we don’t know what to do.’”

Life was tough financially too, but Leblanc and Caius still had the house and they were making things work by juggling bills, even if it meant not buying food at times.

Then, on June 21, Caius found a lighter in the back of Leblanc’s dresser. Sometime in the middle of the night, he managed to set fire to a mattress. Leblanc didn’t even know he was awake.

“You’re exhausted and you’ve been hyper vigilant for however many months, 24/7 without hope. And then eventually something will happen.”

After the Petrolia Fire Department had put out the flames, the damage was laid bare. Not only had Leblanc’s room been destroyed, much of their furniture downstairs was gone as well as their clothing. Even worse, the heat of the flames caused serious damage to the electrical system. The hydro was shut off and Leblanc and Caius moved into her parent’s one bedroom apartment.

Monday, the mother and son caught a break; Lambton County Developmental Services had a free apartment in Sarnia and they moved in. Leblanc doesn’t know how long they’ll be there.

And since the fire, respite care for Caius has increased from four hours a week to 10 – just enough time to give Leblanc an opportunity to sleep or do chores she can’t do when Caius is around.

“I’m just tired. You know, it’s…” Leblanc’s voice trails off and she releases a long sigh. “It’s just, it’s overwhelming… it really becomes about just trying to get to the end of the day, and just be able to take a deep breath.”

Leblanc wants to work but without the much needed supports, she may be forced to go on Ontario Works. “I’m just scared about what our future looks like.”

Her friends are trying to help ease Leblanc’s burden. A GoFundMe page called Fundraiser for Megan Leblanc has been set up to raise $75,000 to fix her house, replace furniture and clothing and pay some bills.

Nikki Morreau has set up an online Facebook auction as well. It runs until Aug. 1 at 8 pm.
“I just want to help take some stress off her shoulders,” she says. “She’s a wonderful person who has been dealt some pretty hard times and she deserves a little bit of a break.”