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Goulds' Justin Blundon filled his short life by giving to his community

Justin Blundon.
Justin Blundon. - Contributed

Funeral was ‘one hell of a celebration’

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Today should have been Justin Blundon’s 30th birthday, if he could have let go of his big, generous heart.

Justin came home to Goulds Feb. 1 after a month with family at the Ottawa Heart Institute and died the next day in his parents’ arms. He would have started the process in April of waiting for a heart transplant. But his family says he didn’t want to go through it.

“He didn’t want to give up his heart of gold,” his mother, Linda, said Monday at the family home in the Goulds. “He had such a heart of gold.”

His father, Chris, said as a churchgoer and believer in God, he has accepted what God’s plan was for Justin — “To give the community of Goulds and our family such a gift.”

The Blundon family are an inspiration themselves for their gracious acceptance of tragedy. They want neither publicity or accolades, but agreed to tell Justin’s story to pass on some vital messages — that of volunteering and that of the necessity of organ donation to save lives.

And they want to share how much Justin’s great big smile touched those around him; that despite having a rare condition, he never complained; that his positive attitude moved classmates to accept the outward signs of his condition and not bully him; that he inspired others to help the community as he did — for the sake of doing good and not for self-promotion and social media fandom.

Pride

Their words Monday burst with pride, rather than the sadness one would expect and understand in the freshness of grief.

About 800 to 1,000 people passed through Justin’s visitation last week and the Blundons, said Chris, heard countless stories that opened their eyes far beyond the blessed child they knew they had.

And from every last person came the acknowledgment of Justin’s unforgettable smile. The family went through 2,000 photos and could not find one where he wasn’t smiling.

“He never complained. It was all good,” said his sister, Janean.

The funeral started out smaller in the planning, but then the number of people wanting to honour Justin grew and grew as organizations stepped up. And that respect for Justin carries the family through this awful time measured minute by minute, hour by hour and day by day.

There were firefighters from a number of fire departments who showed up from out of town. Members of the St. John’s Regional Fire Department served as pallbearers and every organization Justin was involved in participated in an honour guard — firefighters, the Lions Club and St. John Ambulance.

Justin was an honorary firefighter with the Goulds Volunteer Fire Department, and had volunteered and helped out in some way almost as long as his father, a captain, has been with the department — 28 years.

There were also a number of politicians, as Justin had helped some campaigns, erecting signs, but did not pick a particular party to throw his support behind.

Overwhelming

“It was one hell of a celebration,” Chris said of the funeral.

“We got through this week from his strength. … Justin brought the good out of everybody.”

“It was overwhelming. We didn’t realize how many lives he changed,” Janean said.

After high school, Justin earned a living gathering recycling, but just about every day of the week he had an activity or three that involved community work for the organizations he was involved with, or for St. Kevin’s Church. If there were tickets to be sold for any fundraising cause, he went around the neighbourhood with them, and would come back and sell his siblings’ tickets.

With the Lions Club, he won the Melvin Jones Fellowship Award, and was also a Duke of Edinburgh recipient and won the Gordon Seabright Volunteer of the Year award, among other honours.

Gathering around the late Justin Blundon’s chair covered in his favourite pattern - camouflage - are his Goulds family (front, from left): sister Jenna, mom Linda and sister Janean; and (back, from left) brother Jason and dad Chris. On the wall behind Chris and Janean is a photo of Justin in his honorary Goulds firefighter uniform. Justin died last week at age 29 after being assessed for a heart transplant.
Gathering around the late Justin Blundon’s chair covered in his favourite pattern - camouflage - are his Goulds family (front, from left): sister Jenna, mom Linda and sister Janean; and (back, from left) brother Jason and dad Chris. On the wall behind Chris and Janean is a photo of Justin in his honorary Goulds firefighter uniform. Justin died last week at age 29 after being assessed for a heart transplant.

“People say he was the most dedicated person they had ever seen,” said Janean. “Whatever they had on, he would be out there. … There were times that Justin was gone every night of the week volunteering at something. He did it because he wanted to be there and help out no matter what it was.”

“He didn’t want to be recognized,” said Chris. “He did it on his own. Like the priest said in his homily, you know, ‘Thanks to the family for letting us have Justin.’ No b’y, it wasn’t us. He wanted to do it.”

“The people affected by him were newborn to age 99. It didn’t matter the age,” said his mom, Linda.

“He did more in his life than some people do in a life three times as long,” said his brother, Jason.

At a year old, Justin was diagnosed with methylglutaconic aciduria Type 5, a metabolic condition that mostly affected his fine and gross motor skills, balance and speech.

“Growing up, we just lived with it,” Chris said.

Justin didn’t let it stop him. He was active and rode his ATV. He helped his father build a garage.

He was diagnosed when all the family underwent genetic testing following the death of his brother, Chris, who lived just one day.

Justin walked with a gait and went through physiotherapy.

Rare condition

His parents knew the condition was rare, but they did not know how rare until five years ago when the family took a vacation to Florida and Justin contracted a virus.

His organs began to shut down and he went into kidney and liver failure. He was on a ventilator and life support for nine days and then was medevaced back to Newfoundland and Labrador, where he spent 50 days in the coronary care unit at the Health Sciences Centre, his father said.

“The Largo Medical Center didn’t know what they could do,” Chris said.

He said the family was told Justin was one of eight in North America who have methylglutaconic aciduria Type 5, and one of 20 worldwide. The family gave permission to have his case discussed in a medical journal.

The virus weakened his heart, said Chris, and he was being followed with cardiac care and had an internal defibrillator inserted three years ago.

Last spring, it went off and they learned how his heart had deteriorated.

In December he was referred to the Ottawa Heart Institute. The family went to Ottawa after Christmas and stayed for a month while Justin was assessed, with the request he come back in April to go on the list and start the process for eventually getting a heart transplant.

There were tests upon tests and Justin was told it could take up to four years to find a compatible heart.

But Chris said Justin knew what he wanted.

“He wanted to come home,” Chris said. “He knew he had some signs there. Of course, we were the selfish people. Of course parents always want to have their kids live on.

“But I don’t think he really wanted (the transplant). God put him on this Earth to do a job.”

That Saturday, Feb. 1, the usually active Justin was in a sombre mood, unlike his regular self.

After a bath, he shouted out to his mother for help on the stairs and then asked for his dad’s assistance as well.

“We were hugging each other helping him get up the stairs and he literally passed in our arms,” Chris said.

While the Blundons were in Ottawa, they met several other Newfoundland and Labrador families going through the process for a heart transplant, and now it is their hope Justin’s story will inspire people to talk with each other about organ donation and make it part of their last wishes.

It’s a hard conversation to have, they acknowledge.

“Somebody has to die so somebody else has a bit better life,” Chris said. “It’s a beautiful gift you can give.”


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