Thirty-three years ago, James Hughes was playing centre for the Toronto Marlboros, a farm team to the Maple Leafs and one of the premier junior hockey organizations in Canada.
Hughes, 21 at the time, had a professional sports career ahead of him. The Atlanta Flames were interested.
Part of a Scottish immigrant family, he held a warehouse job with Union Electric in Toronto. It was there on the loading dock that the Kamloops man's life story was radically and irreversibly altered.
"Two days after I was told I was up for the NHL draft, I had a brain aneurysm," he recalled on Friday. "Needless to say, my hockey career went down the … I couldn't even walk."
A blood vessel burst in Hughes' head, leaving his left side paralysed. Despite four years of rehabilitation, he couldn't recover the use of his left limbs.
"They say the only reason I survived the brain aneurysm was because of the shape I was in for playing hockey."
Early Friday morning, the already homeless Hughes was left without wheels. In the middle of the night, his scooter - he calls it his buggy - was stolen from outside the TNRD Civic Building, where he was recharging it.
"I thought it was a safe place and talked to security, and he said there was no problem. Now I have nowhere to turn. I was sleeping in my buggy."
Hughes gets by with a pronounced limp due to his paralysis. His shoes are wearing through, though. He's in a great deal of pain, which partly explains his recent homelessness.
Years of painkillers have affected him internally. He relies on marijuana to control nausea and pain, but hasn't yet obtained a permit to use the narcotic. That put him in conflict with the rules of his last residence, operated by ASK Wellness. After several warnings, he was evicted Aug. 1. Since then, he has been unable to find lodging.
Hughes attended Music in the Park Thursday night, but had to be pushed back to Victoria Street because his scooter battery was low. That's why he was recharging it while staying at a friend's nearby. He can stay at the friend's place a couple of nights a week, but that residence can't accommodate the scooter.
"I'm not looking for sympathy," he said. "I'm looking for somebody who may have seen my buggy."
The scooter is a Fortress 2000 model, burgundy in colour, with a broken front-left fender. Hughes reported the theft to Kamloops RCMP. He's asked if the surveillance video outside the civic building could be reviewed for possible clues.
"For me, to lose my legs over this, is just not fair. I'm not homeless by choice."
Hughes is a familiar face in downtown streets, since he panhandles to supplement his disability pension. He relocated here four years ago from Chilliwack, partly because the climate allows him greater physical flexibility, he said.
"It was the only community that would accept me into the brain injury association." He's hoping the Kamloops Brain Injury Association will be able help him out.
After the theft, he sought assistance from the Ministry of Social Development, but was told it has no means of providing medical equipment replacements or loans.
"They said they bought me one before," the one that was stolen. "There should be some semblance of sanity in that department."
Bob Hughes (no relation), executive director of ASK Wellness, made a quick call Friday afternoon and confirmed that there was a temporary bed for the homeless man at the Men's Christian Hostel.
"I'm hoping it comes forward," he said. "It's really appalling."
Preying upon disabled persons, as loathsome as it is, is not unheard of in Kamloops, Bob Hughes said.
"We've had cases. One guy was going down the street on the North Shore and a couple guys pulled up in a truck, knocked him off and took his motorized wheelchair."
Thieves will try to sell the equipment or salvage parts, he suspects. The machines are worth about $1,800.
"He left the key in the ignition, so that didn't help."
He couldn't comment specifically on James Hughes, citing client confidentiality, but said the Red Cross might be able to get the man into a wheelchair. The man's partial paralysis, however, would preclude use of a manual wheelchair.