Carol and Juanita Harris recently moved to Veterans Memorial Lodge after sharing a home for more than 20 years in Sidney. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)

Saanich woman recounts life of adventure and adversity

Juanita Harris credits her family support for being able to deal with numerous challenges

Despite being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 24, Juanita Harris, 79, never let that slow her down.

Harris, who now lives confined to a bed at the Veterans Memorial Lodge in Saanich, has had a full life and says her positive attitude is what has given her strength through all of her adversities, along with the support of her family.

Born on the Island, Harris went to school in Switzerland when her younger sister Carol, now 76, was born with serious health ailments.

Following her graduation in Switzerland, Harris says thanks to some family connections she was presented as a debutante to President Dwight D. Eisenhower which helped broaden her perspective on people in general, after spending much of her youth in the Swiss convent.

READ ALSO: ‘Two chicks by the sea’ saved by their guardian angels

When she arrived back home on Vancouver Island, she wanted to see the other side of life as she felt she had grown up quite sheltered, so Harris joined the air force when she was in her early 20s. While in the air force, Harris who says she was very involved in sports, was recruited to compete in a gymnastics competition.

“What happened was there was a springboard, a box and a mat and I did a perfect jump,” she said, explaining her coach didn’t see the mat had moved from where she was supposed to land. Harris had just enough time to put her elbows up and cover her head before crashing into the cement floor six feet below her. Harris broke both of her elbows and her back, spending the next six months in a coma.

READ ALSO: ‘One day at a time’: ‘Jeopardy!’ host Alex Trebek speaks one year after cancer diagnosis

When Harris woke, she went to Montreal for further medical help where she was diagnosed with MS.

“[The doctor] told me, you either give up every morning or you fight,” she said. That’s exactly what Harris did, relearning the most basic tasks such as walking, talking, eating and going to the bathroom through the pain of dealing with her disease.

“You have to dig for that positive in your life when you’re down and bring yourself up,” she says.

And while Harris and Carol spent most of their childhoods on different continents, both credit the other for helping them get through life. The two share a room, looking out for one another the same way they always have throughout their lives.

“I wouldn’t allow her to get away with staying in bed for 24 hours,” says Carol, with a laugh. “My family didn’t pamper me either.”

The pair recently moved into the Lodge after sharing a home for more than 20 years in Sidney, on the same street where they grew up. They continue to support each other throughout their day to day life.

“We’re not from a wealthy family, but we are from a wealthy family where there’s love and understanding,” says Harris, holding hands with her younger sister.



kendra.crighton@blackpress.ca

Follow us on Instagram
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

kendra.crighton@blackpress.ca

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Sooke fitness facilities reopen to the public

Extra measures set in place to ensure user safety

Racism is here too, say Victoria’s black community leaders

White Victorians have role to play in combatting systems of oppression, prejudice

Shortage of foreign workers costs Saanich Peninsula berry farmer thousands

Gobind Farms says hiring local has been difficult during pandemic

Pedestrian, cycling overpass now open at McKenzie Interchange

Bridge connects Portage Road, Galloping Goose Regional Trail

VIDEO: B.C. dentist gets grand welcome home after two months in hospital fighting COVID-19

Michael Chow was given a surprise send off by hospital staff and ‘welcome home’ from neighbours

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in ways that would have… Continue reading

‘Like finding a needle in a haystack’: Ancient arrowhead discovered near Williams Lake

The artifact is believed to be from the Nesikip period between 7,500 BP to 6,000 BP

Indigenous families say their loved ones’ deaths in custody are part of pattern

Nora Martin joins other Indigenous families in calling for a significant shift in policing

PHOTOS: Anti-racism protesters gather in communities across B.C.

More protests are expected through the weekend

Indigenous chief alleges RCMP beat him during arrest that began over expired licence plate

Athabasca Chipewyan Chief Allan Adam calling for independent investigation

‘I’m pissed, I’m outraged’: Federal minister calls out police violence against Indigenous people

Indigenous Minister Marc Miller spoke on recent incidents, including fatal shooting of a B.C. woman

UPDATED: Pair accused of ‘horrific’ assault at Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park arrested

Police say Jason Tapp, 30, and Nicole Edwards, 33, did not show up to meet their bail supervisor this week

Most Read