Tuesday, August 28, 2018

When Bay Luu isn't caring for her grandson, she's exercising

By Louise Kinross

On Friday I looked out my window at Holland Bloorview and saw Bay Luu, 73, pushing her grandson Nicholas, 17, in a wheelchair. A little later I glanced out and Bay was on her own, doing an aerobic step routine on the basketball court—minus the step. After that she did yoga poses and stretches, including sitting on the tarmac with her legs stretched out like a ballerina, and her head, chest and arms touching the ground. Bay has been sleeping here at Holland Bloorview with her grandson Nicholas, who has a brain anomaly called pachygyria, and is recovering from orthopedic surgery. I wanted to find out how Bay incorporates exercise into her days at the hospital, and how it helps her care for her grandson.

While talking to her, I learned Bay and her family spent a perilous 11 days in a fishing boat sailing from Saigon to Malaysia in 1976, after being stripped of their house, store and belongings during the 1975 Communist take-over of South Vietnam. Prior to their escape, Bay's husband Thanh was sent to a remote labour camp while she and her children lived for months with other families in a church and school. "If the Communists had caught us I would have pushed the children into the sea, then jumped myself," Bay told The Ottawa Citizen in a story about her family in 1978 (see photo at the bottom). The year before they arrived in Ottawa as refugees.

BLOOM: Tell us a bit about Nicholas?

Bay Luu:
He doesn’t talk, but he walks a little. He understands everything. He will shake or nod his head if you ask him a question, or use sign language or facial expressions. At home he goes to school. I live with my daughter Hanh’s family, so that his parents can go to work during the day. Nicholas loves Thomas the Train. His dad has bought him the whole set. He likes to go to the computer and search for information on each of the characters. When he was diagnosed, the doctor said he was one in a million.

BLOOM: How long have you been living with Nicholas’s family?

Bay Luu:
It will be 18 years in January. After we found out Nicholas would have special needs, we sold our house in Ottawa and I came here to help. My husband stayed near Perth, because he doesn’t like the city.

BLOOM: What is your routine at home?

Bay Luu:
In the morning I wake Nicholas up at 6 o’clock and help him go to the washroom and brush his teeth and we go down for breakfast. I pack him a lunch. He likes little bits of French toast he can eat by himself, and two yogurt bottles. In the morning I make him oatmeal. At 7:30 the bus comes to pick him up. Then I go for a walk. I come back at around 12 or 1 and cook something. I cook his dinner for a long time so it’s chunky, but very soft. I chop the carrots and the chicken small, and cook them with rice and chicken broth. He comes home at 3:15. At 3:30 he does half an hour of exercise on the elliptical in our basement. That’s when I do my stretches. Then he has oatmeal and a bath and his dinner. We stretch his legs in braces for about an hour-and-a-half in the evening. He goes to sleep at 8:30 when he’s at school. He sleeps with me. 

BLOOM: Does he sleep through the night?

Bay Luu: Yes, he sleeps well.

BLOOM: I know children with his condition sometimes have seizures.

Bay Luu:
We are very lucky and he’s had no seizures.

BLOOM: What is your exercise routine at Holland Bloorview?

Bay Luu:
I get Nicholas ready in the morning and he goes to recreation at about 9:30. Then I go out to exercise. First I go upstairs to the 6th floor and I walk down to Level zero and up to 6 again, and then I go outside. I do step, stretches and yoga on the basketball court. I have about an hour and a half to exercise, so after that I may go for a walk in the ravine or walk to Metro. At 11:30 I get Nicholas and help him with his lunch. Then he relaxes on his bed with the TV or iPad. In the evening I do the stairs again. I walk up to the 6th floor, then down to level zero, and back to the third floor.

BLOOM: Why is your exercise important?

Bay Luu:
I have to move, I can’t sit. I feel better and my knees are better. I used to take painkillers for arthritis, but when I exercise I don’t need to. I’m happier when I exercise. If I don’t walk for two days I feel sad. At home I walk five days a week. I also eat lots of vegetables and fruit and drink two litres of water every day. It helps me stay well and healthy, so I don’t have to take pills or be in the hospital. At my medical checkup this year I didn’t have any problems.

BLOOM: Did you have experience with disability before your grandson was born?

Bay Luu:
No, no experience. No one taught me how to take care of Nicholas—by living with him you figure it out. I felt very sad, but if God gives this to you, we have to accept it. It doesn’t help to be sad or angry. I love Nicholas lots and that makes me happy.

BLOOM: How has this experience changed you?

Bay Luu:
Before Nicholas was born I was busy at work. I worked for 23 years at a fast-food submarine place. Now my children are grown up and they’re okay, so I’m happy and thank God. I try to help the kids with special needs more than before. If I can help, I want to help.

That’s why I don’t go on vacation by myself. Last year I went to Singapore for one-and-a-half months and brought Nicholas.

BLOOM: By yourself?

Bay Luu:
Yes. We stayed with his dad’s family who can help us. A few years ago I went to Vietnam for two months and brought Nicholas. I have a family in Vietnam. It’s hard, but I can’t leave him. I would worry about how he was and whether he’s eating the right food. I will live with him till the last day of my life.

Below Bay Luu (centre) with her husband and three of their children, who arrived as refugees in Ottawa in 1976. The photo is from a 1978 article in The Ottawa Citizen. It notes that at the time of their escape from South Vietnam, Bay's fourth child, a 20-month-old son, had a fever and was left in the care of his grandparents.


What an amazing, dedicated young lady! She's more fit than I (splits)! I'm glad Nick & she have each other.

Comment as:

Soumo M.

What an incredible story, thank you for sharing your journey and the love you have for your Grandson, he is so blessed to have you. I am so glad you mention exercise and self-care as it is too often over looked. In these caregiver roles it is all too important. I have a book that I am recommending to everyone, young, old, parents, and the alike. A Space for Love by Gale Nobel is a wonderful new book that addresses the good, the challenging and many other dilemmas frequently faced by parents and caregivers of children with autism, sensory processing and children with special needs.
She states, 'there is nothing to fix, but to understand." She sums it up so perfectly. I truly enjoyed this book. Please check it out here, www.gaylenobel.com