Etienne was born with a form of cerebral palsy known as spastic diplegia. Over the years, he has had ongoing issues with muscle tone, especially around his spine and torso, and tightness in his hips and legs. As he’s grown, Etienne’s mobility has dwindled. But he’s never been one to back down from a challenge. Read on to find out more about this young man whose cheerful nature, intelligence, courage and maturity beyond his years are an interminable source of strength.

Etienne had his first surgery when he was three and a half years old: a procedure known as selective dorsal rhizotomy to reduce spasticity in his legs and hips. They severed some of the nerves in his spinal cord that were responsible for his muscle stiffness and exaggerated reflexes. 

With hard work and different kinds of therapy, Etienne was able to sit up straight. He took his first steps three months later, aided by a walker. He would later graduate to a four-pronged cane, then a single-point cane and eventually was able to walk unassisted for short distances. 

The operation changed our world. It might seem relatively minor, but being able to dress yourself, go somewhere where there are steps and stairs, use the washroom, get around the house… all of that was something Etienne had to learn.

Sylvianne Gemme

Etienne’s mom

Etienne is now a typical teenager in pretty much every respect, except for his mobility, which he is starting to lose. Because his bones are growing faster than his muscles, tendons and ligaments, his gait has been affected. He walks on the tip of his feet, knees bent and hips tilted toward the front. The accompanying loss of balance and risk of premature joint degeneration meant a difficult choice had to be made: either undergo a second operation and the long process of rehabilitation, or potentially be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Etienne chose the former. 

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© Jean-Charles Labarre /

On October 8, he was wheeled back into the OR to loosen the tendons in his legs. It took a total of four hours and close to a dozen incisions for the surgical teams at Shriners Hospital for Children – Canada. But in the end, they were able to help lengthen his muscles and increase the range of movement in his joints. 

With both legs in a cast and connected by a metal rod, Etienne arrived at CHU Sainte-Justine’s Marie Enfant Rehabilitation Centre (CRME) a week later. He had several months of intensive rehabilitation and a new living environment to get used to. 

For kids like me, physiotherapy can be painful and exhausting. It takes time and determination to make progress. It’s easy to get discouraged, but the support at the CRME is incredible. All of the people here and all the equipment they have are making a huge difference.

Etienne, 14

The impact of your gifts

Etienne has an inpatient at the CRME for more than three months now. The physiotherapy, hydrotherapy and massage therapy sessions are helping ease the stiffness in his muscles. And the reason he has access to these specialized services is you and your generosity. Your donations help CRME patients and their families benefit from personalized care from the only rehab centre of its kind in Quebec. 

Donors’ support is what empowers us to transform the rehabilitation experience and build a better future for children from across the province. We would not be able to improve the quality of life of these families without the people who give so generously to Sainte-Justine. Their contributions are vital to humanizing patient care and making it possible to acquire state-of-the-art equipment.

Maryse St-Onge

Director of Rehabilitation, Multidisciplinary and Mental Health Services, and Co-Director of Educational Services
CHU Sainte-Justine

Despite his physical limitations, Etienne has a positive outlook. He still has a long road ahead of him, but every day he gets one step closer to his goal of walking again. And he will make it happen, with the help of the Sainte-Justine family, of which you are a valued member. 

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© Jean-Charles Labarre /

Help us put Sainte-Justine on everyone’s lips this year!

The proceeds from the 14th annual Mois des Câlins campaign will go toward Sainte-Justine and its Marie Enfant Rehabilitation Centre (CRME) so that Etienne and other young patients from across the province can receive personalized, top-quality care with a human touch. 

Embrace the cause by donating to Sainte-Justine or by purchasing one of 30,000 Rose Câlins Lip Perfectors by Clarins at your local Jean Coutu!