At only 11 years old, Hailey Cheng’s life has changed forever.
The young girl slipped and fell on July 17 during a hike with her family to Troll Falls in Kananaskis Country, Alta. She suffered a broken back, a collapsed lung, a partially collapsed lung, a skull fracture and a severed spinal cord.
After the fall, Hailey’s 15-year-old brother, Darren, came to her rescue.
“She slipped on a wet rock, she got swept over a waterfall and her brother rescued her at the base of the falls,” said David Cheng, Hailey’s father.
Despite the heroic effort on her brother’s part, Hailey knew then and there that she did not have sensation in her legs.
“At the site, she knew. She knew she had lost sensation in her legs while they were rescuing her,” recalled David.
A mountain rescue team showed up and assessed her injuries before making the call that Hailey would need to be airlifted from the scene. Alpine Helicopters airlifted her to a STARS Air Ambulance, which brought Hailey to the Alberta Children’s Hospital. It was confirmed there that she was paralyzed from the belly button down.
Currently, Hailey is undergoing rehab at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital in Edmonton and working to regain functionality and strengthen her upper body through daily physical therapy.
She’s also learning to be independent, says David.
“She’s getting stronger every day. There are some skills she still needs to develop. (But) physically, she’s getting stronger,” he said.
Though his daughter is progressing physically, David says she still has some emotional hurdles to face.
“She’s still working through some emotional issues, and she deals with a psychiatrist once a week on those,” he added.
Hailey did not start Grade 7 in September with the rest of her friends, however she has started schooling in rehab for a few hours a day.
“Psychiatry, physiotherapy, that’s the first priority, but they do try to keep kids as up to date as they can with their schoolwork. She’s doing well with that,” said David.
As she will need to use a wheelchair to get around, Hailey’s family must now make their two-storey Sherwood Park bungalow accessible for their daughter’s needs. She’s unable to get up the stairs, but in the meantime, they’ve created a space on the main floor for her to sleep.
“We’ve set up a bedroom for her in the first-floor living room. She has a bed, and we put some privacy screens up so she can have some privacy and a room to herself,” said David.
There are also some concerns with bathroom access.
“We’re still trying to get stair lifts so she can get up to her room, and we’re trying to figure out how to bathe her because none of our bathrooms are acceptable,” he explained.
“Right now we need to renovate our bathrooms, put in a stair lift to her room, and we need to build a few ramps in the house.”
Through this hard time, the community is stepping up to help.
“We were fortunate this last week, a very generous person donated a lift,” said David.
The family had initially contemplated moving to a different house but found that no matter where they went, accessibility modifications would need to be made.
The community that they’d leave behind was also a factor in the decision to renovate their current home.
“We’re a young family cul-de-sac so Hailey grew up with all these kids,” said David.
Along with the donated lift, another close family friend and neighbour is trying to help the Chengs with the financial burden they’re facing due to renovations. Lynn Balaski has set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for the family.
As of Oct. 20, the fundraising effort had raised nearly $10,000 of its $100,000 goal.
Balaski lives two doors down from the Chengs. Her son and Hailey’s older brother, Darren, are best friends.
“It’s a pretty close little keyhole that we all live in,” said Balaski.
Some of the renovations that the home will need include a chairlift to the front door, bathroom fixture additions and ramps in the house.
Despite the hardship the Chengs are facing, they have a very strong foundation as a family unit.
“They’re a very strong, super close family,” she said.
The community’s help, rehab and time are healing the fresh wound of the fall, but the family continues to stay close and gets stronger as Hailey does.
“It was pretty traumatic for us as a family. She’s getting stronger and so is the family. We are getting stronger, too,” said David.
To donate to the family, you can visit the GoFundMe page.