B. C. 7-year-old girl spent a third of her life in a pediatric unit – Kimberley Daily Bulletin

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For a child – who spent a third of his first six years in the hospital – start bouncing up and down the back seat as he approaches the hospital says something about the home away from home that was created for her.

Eliza May is a seven-year-old brown-haired girl with a big smile and a passion for life. When she was only 11 months old, Eliza had a cold that turned into something much worse. His parents, Stacey Wilkerson and Wes Oborne, thought he had had measles in the beginning, after a red rash took his small body.

Wilkerson remembers weeks spent in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at Victoria General Hospital, while Eliza suffered from constant fever and pain. Eliza has an undiagnosed autoimmune disease that causes her immune system to go into overdrive and attack her own body systems like her lungs, intestines, bone marrow and kidneys.

In an open letter to the Victoria Hospital Foundation, Wilkerson describes the longest stay of families in the PICU – 78 nights.

Eliza had a severe reaction to antibiotics, causing her small blood vessels to constrict and the whole body turned to black, including her limbs. Losing the tip of your toes, it was a miracle that you didn't lose a limb or that the toxicity didn't reach your brain.

Watching as 10 caregivers put all they could in this child, "Wilkerson and Oborne were in awe.

"If this should happen to you or me," said one of the doctors, "we will not survive." Eliza was two, writes Wilkerson.

Up to the age of six, Eliza spent a third of her life in the hospital receiving a life-saving treatment for an undiagnosed autoimmune disease. (Victoria Hospital Foundation)

Dr. Jeffrey Bishop, one of Eliza's many doctors at PICU, says that children are really stronger than adults. "We often see children recover from an illness that would lead to death in adult patients," Bishop writes in an e-mail to Black Press Media.

Bishop works with an interdisciplinary team of health professionals, including nurses, pharmacists, respiratory therapists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and social workers to care for some of the province's sickest children, like Eliza. He says there have been times when he was easily the "sickest daughter in the country".

The surprising thing is that the life-saving treatment that Eliza received was provided for her right here on the island. The PICU at Victoria General Hospital can treat 98% of children in need of care thanks to more surgeons and general practitioners with Victoria-based pediatric specialty training.

"When your baby is sick, your life falls apart anyway, but you still have to keep a life outside the hospital," says Wilkerson, something he believes would have been much more difficult if Eliza had been treated elsewhere.

Watching the PICU team do everything they can to keep Eliza alive on more than 15 occasions, Wilkerson feels a sense of family when he walks through the doors of the hospital. He says he took care of her as much as they took care of his daughter, remembering the first time Eliza was admitted and the terror she felt.

"They welcomed and then offered to make me a toast … This is the challenge of pediatrics, they don't just take care of the children, they take care of the parents," he says.

There have been numerous times when Eliza's family believed she would not survive all night. On one of these occasions, family members from all over Canada flew to greet.

It was an exciting time for Wilkerson, and when he entered the Eliza area in the PICU he noticed a new quilt that someone had made and donated was placed on his bed.

"(The nurse said) This is Eliza's new quilt and she will take him home with her when she goes," says Wilkerson. "They helped us believe she could do it."

Bishop states that it would be difficult not to feel sadness, anger, frustration or helplessness when working with seriously ill or dying children, but believes that the most challenging non-patient role in the PICU is that of the parent.

"When we do our job of treating pain and anxiety well, our patients often have a minimal memory of their time in the PICU," he writes. "Most parents, however, will probably never forget their stay."

A year has passed since Eliza was hospitalized for the last time and her parents started thinking about the future in years instead of months or weeks. Wilkerson says she would like to see Eliza grow up to work in a hospital one day and give back to the community she hosted.

"You never want to be in this situation," says Wilkerson. "But the community and the friends that we did inside the hospital are something we would never have experienced otherwise."

Currently the Victoria Hospital Foundation aims to raise $ 1.8 million for 40 new monitors for the PICU and the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) through their campaign You Are Vital Pediatrics. Monitors provide caregivers and parents with vital information that helps make life-saving decisions.

"We learn to read those pretty well for people without medical education," he says. "We could see second after how difficult (Eliza) was fighting."

Contributions can be made by donating online at the address victoriahf.ca/vitalkids, by calling 250-519-1750 or by mailing to Wilson Block, St. Bay 1952, Victoria, B.C., V8R 1J8.



kendra.crighton@blackpress.ca

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