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Calgary athlete who died after being struck on Macleod Trail suffered from mental health issues; family seeks answers

The family of a Calgary man who died after being hit by a minivan while riding his bike along Macleod Trail is speaking out about the importance of discussing mental health.

According to his loved one, all things athletic — from the bobsleigh track to the weight room, dragon boat racing or rugby — seemed to come naturally to Andrew Penaranda.

Andrew, a volunteer coach with a Calgary special needs swim team, always wanted to encourage others to excel in sports.

“Andrew was a super charismatic guy. He was always optimistic,” said his brother Christopher on Friday.

“He was always helping people and sharing information.  He was always learning new things.  Andrew really was the life of the party. He never wanted anyone to feel burdened or down. He was always listening to people about their problems.”

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In 2009, their mom died by suicide. Andrew was just 18 years old at the time and had recently started university. The loss of his mother left him feeling additional responsible for his little brothers.

Christopher said there was there was a deep sadness in Andrew. Friends and family tried to get him to open up and talk about the trauma.

“He just didn’t want to open up because he didn’t want to make people feel sad and he wanted to shoulder that burden.  He was going through a lot and with that kind of stuff you try to be there for them and help them along,” said Christopher.

Undated photograph of Andrew Penaranda, who was fatally injured in a crash that occurred while he was cycling on Macleod Trail in south Calgary. Supplied: Penaranda family

Andrew graduated from the University of Calgary and worked as a kinesiologist but was recently homeless, at times staying with his grandmother.

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He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder five years ago. Christopher says he had been on medication and was in hospital three times – the last time just a few weeks ago.

Las month, his brothers received the devastating news that Andrew had been hit by a vehicle while riding his bike on Macleod Trail near the Shawnessy Boulevard overpass.

The police report said it was a man reportedly yelling and waving a broom at vehicles.  32-year-old Andrew died two days later.

Friends have set up a GoFundMe campaign to help raise money for the family.

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Andrew’s family wants others to know there was a complex set of circumstances that led to that tragic day.

“Hopefully everyone out there just realizes it’s very real and it’s very devastating to see friends and family affected all around and how it destroys lives,” Christopher said.

His family isn’t laying blame, they just want to know what more could have potentially been done.

“Maybe piece together what happened. At the end of the day it’s a 1,000 piece puzzle. It’s not one thing to blame,” said Christopher.

Christopher says friends and family tried to support Andrew they best they could.

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“For anyone out there who has friends and family that are in similar situations –  don’t be afraid to reach out and be there for support no matter what state of mind they’re at, and likewise to the people who are suffering. Andrew being an optimistic guy, didn’t want to open up because he wanted to be the strong person. But at the end of the day, who knows,  maybe if he opened up more he could still be around with us.”

“Andrew really was the life of the party. He never wanted anyone to feel burdened or down. He was always listening to people about their problems”. Supplied: Penaranda family

Christopher said he and his other two brothers want people to reach out for professional help.

“This is real and it’s prevalent and even if you’re feeling OK, there could be something deep down inside like with Andrew that you’re suffering through that you don’t want to open up or unfortunately wasn’t willing to because of the stuff he was going through mentally,” Christopher said.

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The organizers of the GoFundMe campaign paid tribute to Andrew’s lift.

“Anyone who had the pleasure of knowing or having met Andrew knows just how special he was. Andrew had a way of making connections with anyone he met. He was charismatic, full of energy, and his ability to inspire and motivate you was unmatched.

“Life had not been easy for Andrew but he always found a way to stay positive and resilient. He was incredibly generous, was always willing to lend a helping hand and enjoyed spending time with friends and family. He was loved by many. ”

In a statement to Global News, Alberta Health Services officials said supports are available to Andrew’s family.

“This is a tragic incident and our hearts are with the family and friends of the deceased. We are available to answer any questions or concerns they may have. We understand the importance of providing patients affected by mental illness with the care and services they require when they need it.”

AHS says any person suffering from mental health issues that needs to be admitted to hospital will be admitted to hospital. If a person comes to an emergency department in mental health distress, they are assessed by both medical and mental health professionals. Based on their assessment, those clinicians would then decide if a patient needs inpatient care. No one is turned away if they need immediate care.

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AHS says if a clinician decides that a patient does not need to be admitted to hospital, they can refer a patient to a variety of outpatient and community-based mental health support programs.

AHS resources are available around the clock to anyone needing mental health supports including:

  • Health Link at 811
  • The Addiction Helpline at 1-866-332-2322
  • The Mental Health Helpline at 1-877-303-2642
  • Access Mental Health, Calgary’s non-urgent information, consultation and referral line, is also available Monday–Friday, from 8 a.m.–5 p.m., by calling 403-943-1500.
  • For emergencies, call 911 or go directly to the nearest emergency department.

&© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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