More than your average teenager, 18-year-old Laura Hillier was an exceptional student and talented singer.
Her voice could be heard soaring in song after song, in a video her friends made in her memory, but she sounded entirely different in a plea she made from her hospital bed in January.
Laura was dying of leukemia, her voice was hoarse.
“They say I may not wake up but I really hope I do,” she said. “But if I don’t, I hope this never happens to anyone ever again.”
She spent her last precious moments before surgery speaking out for others.
“There needs to be funding, because people are dying when we can save them,” she said.
Despite her grief, Laura’s mom is adding her voice to her daughter’s.
“I was really proud of her but it was agony to watch your daughter record such a message,” said Frances Hillier, adding she believes Laura didn’t need to die.
After being diagnosed with leukemia last spring, there was a perfect match for a stem cell transplant.
“She had a great remission in July, and should have been taken to transplant,” said Frances.
But there was no bed and Laura was put on a wait list for the life saving procedure.
Stem cell transplants can only be performed in specialized centres because of their complexity.
Instead of surgery, Laura underwent four more rounds of chemotherapy and a series of delays.
“There’s no question that more needs to be done,” said Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins.
He said his Ministry is launching a task force to tackle the wait list, and they’re adding more funding to the $30 million they have already committed.
Technological advances have increased patient numbers in recent years, according to Hoskins.
“Particularly in the last year we’ve seen an increase in the number of individuals that are eligibile,” he said.
“That’s where we have seen a fairly dramatic increase in the wait list as well.”
However, according to a Cancer Care Ontario report, as far back as 2007 the alert was raised that cancer programs could not keep up with demand for stem cell transplants.
In 2008, an advisory panel called on the Ministry of Health to “approve and fund one additional autologous program immediately.”
Now, the government has announced a new allogenic transplant centre to be built at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital.
Frances said there are no records to indicated how many people have died while waiting.
“There was a deaf ear or a blind eye turned to this problem for many, many years,” she said.
For her, urgency is key.
She will keep pushing until everything promised gets done, in Laura’s memory.
“She said, ‘Please don’t let me die in vain mom, you have to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else,'” said Frances.
Laura’s plea from her hospital bed, not the encore of her dreams, but centre stage — was an advocate for others.
“We could save these people, please help.”