By Al Downham
After a drowning accident left him paralyzed, one Ryerson dance student is receiving help from friends, family and the theatre school to cover substantial medical costs.
“It’s a really heartbreaking situation,” said Ryerson Theatre School (RTS) chair Peggy Shannon. “Everybody flew into action to do what we could.”
Napu Boychuk, 29, had been dancing since adolescence, according to friend and Ryerson dance alumnus Andrew McCormack. Now in his final year of study, Boychuk was featured in Ryerson’s 2014/2015 Choreographic Works and Ryerson Dances.
“He always gives more to his partner than he gives to himself,” said fourth-year acting student and classmate Cameron Walker Fox Revett. “His style is kind of athletic, very strong.”
However, on Dec. 13, the dance student drowned at a beach in Varadero, Cuba, after getting caught in an undercurrent.
Boychuk was resuscitated, and quickly taken to the hospital for emergency spinal cord surgery, where he had his fifth and sixth vertebrae aligned. He initially lost use of his limbs with seawater and sand in his lungs and stomach.
“I was heartbroken for him,” said fourth-year acting student and classmate Brooke Morrice. “Especially as a dancer, it’s always hard to hear when a dancer has a physical injury. That disables their livelihood.”
With limited internet and phone availability, many of Boychuk’s friends and family back home learned about the accident at the beginning of January through posts by his sister, Tuutalik.
“I didn’t actually realize until much later,” said McCormack. “I thought it was fake. I was actually hoping it was fake and a scam.”
Tuutalik, who steadily posts Facebook updates on Napu’s condition, wrote that Cira Garcia — the hospital treating her brother — is providing “amazing” treatment.”
However, she added his emergency travel insurance was cut off Jan 7. With medical costs from Dec. 13 to Jan. 7 amounting to $19,500 U.S. Napu’s family started an online fundraising campaign soon after.
“I don’t want to use the word dreadful, but I can’t think of a better word,” McCormack said. “Something so bad, negative to happen to such a great person.”
When friends, family, and Ryerson community members found out about the incident, others also decided to raise money to cover the medical costs and a plane ticket home.
McCormack, for example, is helping organize one fundraiser event at Scallywags, where Napu worked as a part-time bartender.
Another fundraising event occurred on Jan 16. in Iqaluit, hosted by John Manzo — a local dance teacher and friend of Tuutalik and Napu.
“We wanted the arts community to help them out because they’re very involved,” Manzo said. “When he was here [last], he was telling me his love for dance and hoping he’d get a chance to dance here in Iqaluit with our group.”
Ryerson students and staff also collaborated in creating a fundraiser under the RTS.
“It was a team effort,” said Shannon, who made the first donation to the RTS initiative. “He’s really in dire need so we just need to help him.”
Since Napu was older than most students at RTS, some students know him as a kind classmate ready to offer advice and experience.
“Truth be told, we were all terrified little first years at the time,” Fox Revett said. “Having someone come in who was super chill about it, that was completely new to us.”
On Jan. 21 the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) announced their members’ health & dental plan set up an emergency claim for Boychuk under their emergency travel insurance provider. The RSU also contributed $500 to the RTS fundraiser.
“As soon as we heard from the faculty we immediately launched a claim. It’s top priority for them to be able to get full insurance,” said RSU president Andrea Bartlett.
Boychuk’s family contacted the RSU immediately after the incident and the insurance claim process was able to be expedited due to the circumstances.
So far the fundraisers have cumulatively raised over $21,000. And as of Jan. 16, Tuutalik wrote that Napu is off a ventilator and IV drip and is now sitting up. He’s also regaining movement and feeling in his limbs. Napu will stay in Cuba for therapy until at least mid-February.
“He’s just always happy and trying to make others laugh,” said McCormack. “Especially if other people aren’t in a very good mood, he’ll try to lighten up everyone’s day. It’s just so consistent — all the time.”
With files from Farnia Fekri.