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Valley Lives - Jennifer Martin

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the February 24, 2016 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Always a fighter and always so optimistic

by Ben Bulmer

One of Jennifer Martin's favourite songs was Phil Collins' "Against all odds." Her dad had played it a lot when she was young, and the lyrics to the song could be used as a slogan to describe her life. Jennifer beat the odds by 29 years and achieved what everyone said was impossible.

Jennifer Martin

"She just wanted to live," said Jennifer's dad, Ray Martin. "She had a big heart... and she was a fighter."

Ray reminisces on the chance he got to take his daughter to see Genesis live in Ottawa in 2007.

Jennifer Martin was born at the Wakefield Hospital on August 30, 1984 to parents Colleen Everett and Ray Martin. Just months after her birth, she was diagnosed with Glycogen Storage Disease, a condition so rare it was the first case ever seen in Canada.

"Her life expectancy was approximately two years," said Jennifer's aunt, Sue Martin. "She really was quite a miracle." Sue speaks of a strong and determined girl: "She was sassy and she was funny. She always faced every little setback with a smile."

Jennifer's condition meant that, in the early days of her life, she had to be fed every two hours. A compromised immune system meant that starting school was out of the question. The Low Down ran annual stories about the girl from Low with the giddy smile, following her progress as she went through different treatments and drugs. A 1995 article said the resilient 10-yearold had no time for our reporter and her annoying questions " she too busy playing NHL hockey on her SEGA.

Jennifer Martin
The Low Down ran annual stories about the girl from Low with the giddy smile, following her progress as she went through different treatments and drugs, including this cover story from February 1985.

"She would wait till I got off the bus," said friend Jessica Smith. "She always wanted to play and have fun." The two girls were neighbours in Low and Smith says it was her job to expose her to the world. "I told her about Santa Claus," she said. "I felt horrible - she had big tears." Just a few weeks ago, the two old friends laughed at the Santa Claus story from Jennifer's hospital bed. "[She was] always a fighter and always so optimistic about things."

The fighting and optimism paid off and, with the advent of a new drug, Jennifer started at St. Michael's school in Low at age 10.

"It was in Grade 8 she told me 'I'm going to be a mother one day'," said school friend Alison Rooney. "She always told me she would have children, no matter what."

Jennifer moved from Low to Hull when she was 16. "She wanted her own life," said Ray. "She just wanted to lead a normal life."

A year later, Jennifer met Wayne Reed, and two years after that, they moved in together. The couple were engaged for 10 years.

Jennifer embraced life heading back to the classroom to finish high school, working several different jobs and doing a college course to become a lab technician. "She was a week from graduation when she got really sick," said Reed. But the one thing she wanted the most was a family.

"She was told she wasn't able [to have children]," said Reed, but again she defied the odds and gave birth to Addison in 2010. "[I was] very, very worried," said Reed. "She was considered high risk." But just as it had been with her own mother, Jennifer's daughter, born one month premature, fought the fight and celebrated her sixth birthday just three days before Jennifer passed away.

"Addison is healthy and sparkly and calls me every morning," said Ray. "That's our gift from Jen... I even heard Jen singing Happy Birthday. She hardly had a voice in her [but] she tried."

The fighter who came into the world 31 years earlier was fighting till the very end.

Jennifer Martin passed away peacefully at the Ottawa Civic Hospital on Feb. 11, 2016.


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