In 1970, 13-year-old Bunnie Wigley was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, the outlook of which was bleak at the time.
“It was me, my mom and dad and the doctor told us that I would be blind by the time I was 25 and I would be dead by the time I was 30,” she said.
While the diagnosis was startling for Wigley, sadness was not the emotion she felt at the time.
“It was the first time I saw my dad cry and I was mad they made him cry,” she said. “That day, I kind of wanted to punch him (the doctor) because I felt he hurt my dad so bad.”
Despite being given a death sentence, Wigley decided at that time she wasn’t going to stop living her life.
“I decided that I was not going to do that. I was going to live life to the fullest and if there was something to do that was fun — I did it. If there was nothing going on, I would create something fun to do,” she said.
Wigley recently marked a huge milestone last month – her 60th birthday. Her husband Murray Roddis decided he was going to throw a neighbourhood party to mark 30 years past the date the doctor’s said she would live until.
“About a year ago we started planning the party,” Roddis said. “She asked jokingly if we could get the Beatles tribute band from Calgary to come play in our backyard. I’m never one to not ask the question so I got on the phone and asked whether they wanted to come up and play at the party. He said, ‘I’ll talk to the guys and see’ and then they said, ‘Yup, absolutely we want to come and do this for you.’”
Originally the party was supposed to much larger, with over 500 people invited to attend a boardwalk party on the grounds of Joseph Welsh Elementary School — right near where Wigley and Roddis live. The boardwalks were intended to help people in wheelchairs, like Wigley, get around the party however that was not accepted by the City due to the potential damage boardwalks would do to the playground. The City did, however approve a block party.
“We had the block party and the neighborhood really came out. The mayor was there and she was impressed with everything,” Roddis said. “We did run into the problem of wheelchairs and walkers trying to cross the grass, so Bunnie had to be in the corner for the whole party pretty much.
“It was good and the neighborhood really enjoyed it. They asked if we were having it again. It was a lot of fun.”
Wigley’s 60th birthday is just the latest in a long list of milestones she’s reached past her 30th birthday. Along the way, she has dealt with many tragedies and triumphs including in 2013, when she lost her left leg due to complications from her diabetes; losing and regaining her sight three times; and most recently in 2016 when she spent 60 days in hospital care after suffering a serious stoke.
“I was in bad shape when I had my stroke,” Wigley said. “I don’t remember much of being there, but I was in ICU for five days. I remember all these people coming who I haven’t seen in a long time. I thought that’s weird. What are they doing here? They were coming to see me for the last time.
“I remember my mom being there and when she was going, she was crying. I thought, mom, I’ll be out of here soon and everything is going to be okay. I laid there thinking why is everyone upset? I guess they thought they’d miss me and that I was gone.”
Wigley made it through her stroke, with only losing partial use of her left side. She credits her ability to have fun and find humour in everything as part of the reason she is able to keep going. This is evidenced by when she lost her sight due to cataracts.
“The doctor said, ‘I don’t know how to tell you this’, and I said ‘what?’” she said. “He said, ‘All the things you’ve had go wrong with your eyes and now you have cataracts.’ I said, ‘A cataract in this eye and an Oldsmobile in that one?’ He asked, “Could you be serious for once?’, and I said, ‘No, life is too serious.’
“I make a joke of everything when it is not really funny.”
Humour and her husband have been crucial to Wigley’s recovery.
“If it wasn’t for Murray, I probably wouldn’t be alive. I was hanging on to him to the whole time saying, ‘Don’t let go of me’. I was at the edge of a cliff,” she said.
Roddis, who was struggling to find a job after being laid off at the time of Wigley’s stroke, credits Wigley for being an inspiration to him.
“People find Bunnie’s attitude to be inspirational. When she was in the hospital clinging to life, people would come to visit and she would rise to the occasion and they would go away ready to take on the world,” he said. “I was following her ambulance (on the road back to Red Deer) and I kept hearing in my head, ‘You are following a vessel of inspiration.’ She was put here to endure these challenges and to inspire the people around her.”
During Wigley’s 60 days in hospital, Roddis was there every day — often sleeping in the hallways of the University of Alberta Hospital.
“He kept asking me to marry him and I kept saying no,” Wigley said.
Roddis replied saying, “It took 60 days of chasing her down until I finally caught her. We were married July 10th of 2016.”
Wigley offered some advice regarding her experiences.
“Family and friends — don’t take any of that for granted. Some day they won’t be there. You have to make everything count with the people you spend your time with,” she said.
She added, “I didn’t accept the diagnosis. If you are going to die, get out there and do stuff.”