Joe Philion, who survived 1980s house fire in Orillia, dies at 48 in Vancouver hospital – .

Joe Philion, who survived 1980s house fire in Orillia, dies at 48 in Vancouver hospital – .

Joe Philion was sure that 2009 would be the year of his death. He was still healing from the house fire he survived in the 1980s that left him with burns to 95% of his body.

On Wednesday, 11 years after his premonition, Phillion died at the age of 48 in Vancouver General Hospital.

It was March 10, 1988 when Philion’s house caught fire as his mother and stepfather were out. He managed to get his younger brother, Danny, to safety, but the teenager suffered severe burns before jumping out a window into a snowbank.

Audiences were enthralled by Philion’s survival story and it gained media attention. Phillion would win accolades like the Cadet Medal of Bravery (he was a former Air Cadet) and the YTV Bravery Award. His former wife, Liza Bayev, said he has also met countless celebrities moved by his story, including Bobby Orr, Phil Collins and Don Cherry.

“(Philion) didn’t think he deserved it,” Bayev said. “He told me he did what any brother or son would have done and I said, ‘Joe, not everyone would have done what you did.’ “

Retired Star reporter Jim Wilkes has covered his story for years. Of all the encounters Wilkes had with Philion, he will never forget when he saw him in October 1988, receiving treatment at the Shriners Burns Institute in Boston. Wilkes saw Philion in his hospital bed, with 95% of his body burned and a smile on his face.

“It was almost a miraculous smile,” Wilkes said. “Despite everything he had been through in the previous weeks, he was still able to smile despite the pain. ”

Wilkes describes Philion’s story as a “real Canadian tragedy”.

“In many ways, he was too young to be given the responsibility of handling all the resources and kindness people gave him,” Wilkes told The Star.

People came together to rebuild Philion’s house, with an elevator to make it easier for the boy to move around in his wheelchair. He also received $ 200,000 which was placed in a trust in his name. But in 1996, Philion’s house was in disrepair and he had nearly $ 100,000 in debt.

Wilkes wrote in 1996 that people who tried to help Philion rebuild his life felt “cheated on their happy ending.”

Wilkes also wrote that Philion understood why people felt this way.

“I don’t blame them. But I mean, all I can do is ask for help, ”Philion told Wilkes.

Bayev and Philion have been separated for 21 years but have remained friends. They met in 1992 and married three years later, around the same time Philion started having problems with home and money.

“Everyone blamed him for losing the house. Everyone blamed him for the disappearance of the trust fund. He had no control over it. He was 15, ”Bayev said. “He was a very proud person and he didn’t like asking for help unless he absolutely needed it. ”

Kathleen Keating has been a friend of Philion for over 20 years. When Keating and Philion first met, she felt an instant connection with him. They met around the same time that Philion was losing his house and she could tell how grateful he was to the community of Orillia for having built it and how devastated he was to lose it.

“He was ashamed to lose the house… He thought he could maintain the house, he thought he could fix things,” Keating said. “As much as he wanted, he couldn’t do it, he wasn’t physically able to do it, which never stopped him from trying. ”

Keating wants people to know that Philion appreciated all the support he received after the fire, from the house to a $ 20 bill he received in the mail. She also hopes that Philion will be remembered for his kindness in the face of his tragedies.

“I don’t think I heard anyone talk about the impact it had. Yes, he had a tragic life every step of the way, but he gave joy to so many people just by being himself, ”Keating said.

For Bayev, the most important lesson she learned from Philion is to be tenacious, even in the face of great adversity.

“There are days when I feel like giving up everything and I realize that I can’t; Joe never gave up, ”Bayev said.


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