The Baie Verte man, born with spina bifida, had a fulfilling and inspiring life despite the physical challenges he faced. Unable to walk, that did little to stop him from accomplishing anything he set his mind to. In the later years of his life, set back by health complications, he still found the strength to do the things he loved.
An avid hunter and outdoorsman, Maurice’s zest for life didn’t go unnoticed. Embraced by his family, parents Monica and Mervin Saunders, he was proof a disability doesn’t hold one down.
A doctor/patient relationship is a special thing when medical care is required as much as it was in the life of someone like Maurice. However, sometimes in rare instances, those relationships go far beyond the hospital visits and medical services.
Monica Saunders said her son found that in Dr. Doug Drover, a St. John’s physician and surgeon. When Maurice turned 18-years-old and developed kidney problems, he was transitioning from the Janeway Children’s Hospital to adult care. Drover, a person Monica described as a gift to the family and a friend to Maurice, took him on as a patient.
“They developed a remarkable friendship,” Monica said. “He wasn’t just a patient, he was remarkable to Maurice. They would chat. Both of them liked hunting, so they would talk about that and every day life kind of things.
“They really had an impact on each other. Maurice thought the light shined out of Doug and vice versa.”
Drover was the surgeon with him in February 2016, another of so many surgeries and hospital visits, a surgery he would not survive.
Monica said Drover asked her if he could start a scholarship in Maurice’s memory, and she was honoured to say yes.
“It is words that you can’t even explain,” she said. “Just to know that my son impacted him so much that he wanted to do something in memory of him, it really touched us.”
Drover wrote a heartfelt letter to the students, staff, family and friends of Copper Ridge Academy as they prepared to present the first-ever Maurice Saunders Memorial Award at the recent year-end ceremony.
He described Maurice as a wonderful man who continues to live within the people his life touched.
“He struggled. He fought. He learned. He was loved. He was happy,” Drover wrote. “Every one has something rare and powerful to offer. The human ability to adapt is our greatest gift.”
The scholarship has been established at $500, to be presented to a recipient at a value of $100 for each of the next five years for a student of the Baie Verte school who rises above a challenge to succeed in life. Monica said the plan is to replenish that fund, continuing the legacy her son left behind.
The first recipient was Justina Breen, a graduating special needs student at Copper Ridge Academy. Monica was in attendance to present the scholarship, and she said it was an emotional moment.
“I was proud to be able to do it as a parent,” she said, choking back the tears. “It was emotional of course, because I lost my son. But, it was an honour to be able to do it.”
Drover also had a message to the students and staff in attendance. He encouraged them to open up to those who are struggling, and see them for the people they are. He also urged them to rise above their own challenges in life.
“Look at Maurice Saunders and his family,” he wrote. “They did not run away from disability. Love and commitment within this family gave Maurice courage and strength to grow. Despite countless visits and surgeries in Montreal and St. John’s, it was not only accepted as their path in life, it was embraced.”
Drover said the scholarship is a celebration of Maurice’s life.
“Be strong, live well and draw inspiration from a man who I loved and was inspired by,” he wrote. “Maurice has forever changed my life. His memory should change yours too.”