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Ucluelet boy's life returns to normal

Less than three weeks after being attacked by a cougar, life is getting back to normal for a Ucluelet area boy and his family.

Eighteen-month-old Julien Sylvester is now home and returned to the preschool program Strong Start earlier this week.

“He’s sitting here eating macaroni and cheese like nobody’s business,” Julien’s mother, Sarah Hagar, said over the phone from their home in Millstream on Tuesday. “He seems pretty much like the same old guy.”

Julien suffered two fractures of his skull and puncture wounds when a cougar leapt out of the bushes and bit him in the head at the Kennedy Lake day-use area in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve August 29.

The toddler was with his four-year-old sister, their grandfather and a friend of the family at the time.

From the beginning Hagar says their family has received an outpouring of support from the local and surrounding community.

“My husband [Chris Sylvester] and I felt so humbled and overwhelmed by people’s generosity and kindness and concern. For us being fairly new to the community, it’s given us a really great sense of this community.”

Hagar and her family moved to Millstream, a subdivision outside of Ucluelet, one year ago. She said the incident emphasized the close ties among people living on the West Coast.

“I knew the paramedics,” she said. “[They] stayed with us right until the air ambulance came. They just showed a lot of concern and dedication. You realize how close you are to everyone.”

She also recognizes Dr. Krista Stogryn, who Hagar says initially treated Julien at Tofino General Hospital.

“She’s a personal friend,” Hagar said. “I’d like to express thanks for her quick and decisive appraisal of the situation and making the great

judgment that we need[ed] to go to BC Children’s Hospital.”

Stogryn is currently on vacation and could not be reached for comment.

Before moving to Millstream, the family lived with the Ahousaht First Nation community on Flores Island, north of Tofino for three years where Sylvester was a schoolteacher.

Hagar says the community made a large donation to the family, and while in hospital family and friends came to visit.

“The majority of [visitors] were from Ahousat. We were really touched by how supportive the community was during this crisis,” she said.

Scars from the cougar bites and the more than two hours of brain surgery still show on the back of Julien’s head through his blonde hair, but the pale pink marks are healing over.

While the boy will receive regular check ups from local physicians to make sure there is no infection in his brain and around the puncture wounds, Julien doesn’t have to return to BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver for a follow-up until early December.

“[Doctors] were concerned a little bit on the right side, having difficulty with fine motor skills and balance, but he hasn’t had any of those issues,” said his mother.

Hagar says one of her and her husband’s big concerns is with his four-year-old sister, Iris. Doctors said both children may experience some developmental regression in terms of having been traumatized.

“We’re just trying to get some child psychology for her,” said Hagar.

“Definitely Iris is concerned and taking care of her brother. She’s more attentive and she recognizes his fragility in a way that she didn’t before.”

“Now we’re just hoping to continue to receive the psychological and social support that our family needs in the aftermath. All I’m left with is an impression of gratitude to the Creator and of the people who have made an impact and a difference in this situation.”

As for returning to the outdoors, “We’re looking forward to going back to the natural area,” said Hagar.

Julien could not go swimming or play on the beach for two weeks after the surgery, during a time when the weather was sunny and the temperature soared to the mid-twenties over the weekend.

“It was hard to stay off the beach with the fine weather we experienced, but at the same time we didn’t want to compromise how well his healing was progressing since the attack. Every turn it’s been the best case since it actually happened. Every single thing fell into place and we have had the best outcome. It’s partially thanks to all those people for their support,” Hagar said.

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