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Ray Yeates is a father and a grandfather. He is a retired mechanic but still defines himself as a guy who likes to tinker around and fix things.

For the last five years, Ray has lived with his partner Ruthie. Ray describes Ruthie as a partner, friend, and soul-mate. The two met many years ago. While they were never legally married, up until recently they were living together in Nova Scotia, where Ray was taking care of Ruthie. Ruthie has dementia, and her health has been fading as of late.

Due to outdated policies and lack of education about tobacco harm reduction products, Ray and Ruthie are separated. On top of that, Ray may also be in a fight for his life.

Ray used to smoke cigarettes. He smoked for a long time, nearly 45 years. Just one day after his daughter’s birthday in January of 2014, Ray was told by his doctor that he had developed Emphysema. When you get this diagnosis, you have very few options on how to treat it. Two of these options require surgery (lung transplant or lung reduction), but Ray’s doctor told him that they were not confident about his survival chances. The third option (chemotherapy) is not guaranteed to have success and Ray did not feel comfortable with that option. He decided against it. His doctors gave him 3-6 months to live.

Ray knew that he wanted to get the most out of his remaining time and realized it was time to quit smoking cigarettes. He began researching options, and he found nicotine vapor technology. After one day of using these alternative products, he never smoked again.

Emphysema, however, is not a curable disease. From that point on, Ray Yeates needed the help of an oxygen concentration machine to breathe.

As we mentioned, Ray has been taking care of Ruthie, but his own health started to deteriorate. While it was not in either of their plans, in late April Ray spoke with a service representative in the province called Continuing Care to have not only Ruthie but himself admitted into an assisted living facility. Within 24 hours of his initial conversation, he was told things were looking promising for both their placements.

Fast forward a few weeks to the 7th of May. The place where Ray and Ruthie were staying was being sold, and they only had a few days left until they needed to move. That was when Ray was informed that Ruthie was headed to a facility in Yarmouth, NS, but he was denied placement because he was a “vaper”.

That fact, mixed with his need for an oxygen concentration machine, posed an “explosion risk.” Ray attempted to reason with the representative and educate them on the fact that these devices contain no open flame and pose no such risk. Ray is familiar with these conversations because after he used these products to quit himself, he founded the Tobacco Harm Reduction Association of Canada, a consumer-driven non-profit with the mission to battle misinformation around tobacco harm reduction products in Canada.

Unfortunately, Continuing Care was not interested in Ray’s logic, and while Ruthie was moved to a hospital for a check-up before her placement, Ray was left scrambling to find a place to stay. His only option was to head to his hometown of Bridgewater, NS, where he could get a reduced monthly rate in a motel room.

Ray’s son attempted to intervene asked to see the documentation mentioned nicotine vaping as a prohibitive factor for being placed. At the time of publishing this article, Continuing Care has failed to provide Ray or his son with this documentation.

So a person who needs oxygen to support his breathing was given less than a week to find and move to a new place in the middle of a global pandemic. Now, Ruthie and Ray are over 200km away from each other. We spoke with Ray Yeates, and he told us how painful this was. How hard it was for them to be separated. This man clearly lives in service to others:  people who use cigarettes, people trying to quit, the advocacy efforts of THRA, or his soul-mate Ruthie.

Ray was hurting.

Ray Yeates’ Situation Gets Worse

The same woman at Continuing Care who gave him hope and then denied his placement again contacted Ray. She informed him that due to a new policy set to be enacted this June, he would also lose access to his government-assisted oxygen, due to the explosion risk of his nicotine vapor device posed.

Ray is now facing the prospect that he will need to contract his own supply of oxygen to survive. This is a grim reality for Ray as he receives less than $1300/mo CDN in retirement benefits, and nearly $800 CDN of that is now going to pay for his living situation.

When we spoke with him, he said while he has heard from Continuing Care, they are still woefully undereducated about the technology and how it works. He is most likely going to continue staying at the motel for the foreseeable future. This itself is dangerous as we are rapidly approaching a storm season that has been known to leave portions of Nova Scotia without power for lengthy periods. That, with a potential lack of oxygen, could prove to be fatal.

Through a series of tweets, we heard Ray’s story from organizations like INNCO and individuals from around the world. Many in Canada look up to Ray and the advocacy work he has done in the last 5+ years, but due to the flight restrictions surrounding the COVID pandemic, there is not much that people can do.

Donate to the #SaveRayYeates GoFundMe

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Head of Digital Storytelling