EDMONTON — The Stollery Children’s Hospital is one of those places many people don’t give a second thought about — until you need it. And then you realize just how lucky you are to have it.
A little over a decade ago my little brother Zach got sick. It was the beginning of years of tests, doctor’s appointments and stays in the hospital.
When it began I was living away from home while going to college, but my mom would give me updates on all the doctor’s visits and testing he had to go for.
This went on for several months before they were able to figure out he had ulcerative colitis. He was eight years old.
Ulcerative colitis is one of those “yucky diseases” no one likes to talk about. In short, it causes inflammation and ulcers inside your large intestine, that in turn makes it difficult for your body to absorb the nutrients from food.
My brother was so skinny, you could count the vertebrate along his back. His little shoulder blades stuck out sharply.
After diagnosis he was quickly recommended to a specialist, who gave my parents the run down on what options were available for Zach. There was surgery or medication. Surgery was recommended as the better option for him, because he was still a kid and would recover easier than an adult would. Plus, it meant the colitis would be gone for good.
By this time I had moved back to Edmonton and was living with my parents and brother, though for the many months Zach spent most of his time living at the Stollery.
In total he had three surgeries. I won’t go into detail for his sake and yours. But I will say this — that kid has more guts (actually less now!) than I do. He was one tough little kid.
While it was physically difficult on him, it was emotionally taxing on my family, especially my parents. They spent many nights taking turns sleeping in the hospital, coming home to shower and get a change of clothes. And in the periods between when Zach was able to come home, he still needed to be cared for.
It sounds a bit silly to say, but I always knew Zach would be fine. It never crossed my mind that he wouldn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I was still concerned about him, but in a way I was able to observe things a bit differently than him or my parents.
During visits to the Stollery I saw the great care that was constantly given to him. It wasn’t just nurses and doctors — Zach was able to continue doing school work while he was there. (I’m sure he was thrilled about that.)
The Beach — a playroom on the fourth floor of the Stollery —and the activities they organized for kids was also great. I like to think, if for even just one second kids can forget they’re sick or in pain and can have something to enjoy or smile about, that makes a huge difference. From what I recall, movie night at The Beach was always a favourite.
I saw the compassionate way most of the staff treated my parents and other visiting family members. There were always middle of the night interruptions or typical hospital issues but certainly no one went out of their way to make you feel uncomfortable or unwelcome.
WATCH: Sights and sounds from the 2015 Corus Radiothon fundraiser for the Stollery Children’s Hospital.
There were, of course, children far worse off than Zach. I saw them too and it always made me sad.
I can’t imagine what it takes to work at the Stollery, seeing children sick and in pain every day. It takes an extra special person to work there.
I’ve been back to the Stollery a few times, but in a journalist capacity — usually getting to see the excitement on the faces of the kids when they get a visit from their favourite Edmonton Oiler or Eskimo player.
While I’m not soliciting donations on behalf of the hospital, I am asking you to take time and think about how lucky we are to have the facility here in Edmonton.
Supporting the Stollery is not just about “giving money to a hospital.” While the donations help in buying new equipment and having the latest technology — it’s about more than that.
It’s about making sure those parents have a pillow to use when they’re trying as hard as they can to get some sleep.
It’s about making sure they get that extra cup of coffee as they sit in the waiting room, anxious and more scared than they’ve been in their entire life.
It’s about kids enjoying a movie night at The Beach with their family, to try and forget just why they’re there.
It’s about making sure the staff are able to do their jobs to the best of their ability.
I’m happy to say that more than a decade later Zach is doing just fine. He’ll always have a scar, but maybe he can make up a cool story to tell the ladies.
He doesn’t really talk about being sick or being in the hospital, but I’m sure he knows he’s lucky to have had the care he did, and is thankful to all the people before who made donations so he was able to receive it.
WATCH: Various Global Edmonton interviews with patients of the Stollery, their parents, and community members who support the children’s hospital.
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