Spirit of Giving


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An experience I will never forget

Kristin Wilton is a Mount Saint Vincent University public relations co-operative student at the IWK Health Centre Foundation.

Maria Panopalis, Kristin and an IWK patient during the 30th Annual IWK Telethon for Children.

Maria Panopalis, Kristin and a patient during the 30th Annual IWK Telethon for Children.

Throughout my second work term at the IWK Foundation, the bulk of my responsibilities were focused on the planning and implementation of Telethon. 2014 was a big year for the IWK as it celebrated 30 wonderful years of the IWK Telethon for Children. On May 31 and June 1, 2014, a record-breaking $6,154,816 was raised thanks to the generosity of Maritimers. This shows Maritime commitment to the IWK and is a significant increase from the inaugural event in 1985 raising $649,000.

Being part of Telethon 30 was humbling. From scheduling vignettes with donors, patients and our partners at CTV Atlantic, to pre-produced stories and rover interviews, I was able to participate in the many aspects that bring Telethon to life.

As the days went on and the Health Centre turned into a live television studio, the excitement exhilarated. To kick off Telethon 30, the IWK Foundation hosted a live remote celebration with CTV Atlantic at the Health Centre. Many early founders, patients and caregivers highlighted special moments from the very first Telethon in 1985. I had the privilege to meet and learn from those who participated in the first Telethon, which was extremely rewarding and provided me with an appreciation of the connection these individuals had and continue to have to the IWK. The distinct transformation over the course of 30 years proves that the Health Centre is a priority for our patients and families throughout the Maritimes.

Another special addition to Telethon 30 was the #MyIWK campaign. Thanks to our partners at Bell Aliant, the #MyIWK campaign kept those involved in the magic of Telethon in the days leading up to the live broadcast. For every photo uploaded to Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #MyIWK, Bell Aliant donated $1 up to $30,000 to celebrate the 30th anniversary. Not only did Telethon 30 raise over $6 million but social media played a large part, reaching 12 million people world-wide. It’s a great feeling knowing that Maritimers continue to step up year after year to make a difference, offline and online.

As I end my time here at the IWK Foundation, I can’t help but reflect on my experiences. Being part of an organization that raises funds to better the care of our Maritime children is rewarding and thanks to my colleagues, is an experience I will never forget.

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Pregnancy was a very difficult time for me.

Reproductive Mental Health is just one way the IWK Health Centre supports women’s health. This service helps women with mental health concerns while they are under reproductive care—before, during, or following a pregnancy. This past weekend, women showed their support by participating in the Shoppers Drug Mart Run for Women, and were able to raise a remarkable $12,000 to support the Reproductive Mental Health Services at the IWK. Here is one patient’s story about how the IWK helped her though her difficult time.  

IWK FoundationI was about four months pregnant with our second child when I ended up at the IWK Mental Health Reproductive Center. I was sent to a social worker at the IWK Health Centre, and I credit her for helping me get to where I am today.

My boyfriend and I have had a rocky relationship and one day I showed up for my appointment at the perinatal centre in a crying mess because we had yet another bad fight. I was immediately referred to the Mental Health Reproductive Center because I literally felt out of control – a complete emotional wreck. Pregnancy was a very difficult time for me. I have always struggled with low self-esteem, emotional irregularity, and childhood issues. I have spent over 20 years talking with therapists and realized that my issues ran quite deep. I often felt overwhelmed by my list of issues and what was required to “correct” them. I felt like I was the only mother going through this and while it was supposed to be the happiest time of my life, I felt alone and overwhelmed.

My obstetrician explained that some women experience postpartum depression while other’s can experience it during the pregnancy itself. I was one of the later. I literally would feel hormones surge through my body and I didn’t know what to do. I needed help badly and I wanted to be a positive role model for my children, so I had to address my problems head on and get the help, advice, and support in order to do so.

The Mental Health Reproductive Centre at the IWK provides therapy and support to expectant mothers and will continue to do so up to a year following their child’s birth. I stayed on for two years, because I had a substantial history of a personality disorder with emotional highs and lows. My social worker was determined to see this through for me. She didn’t give up on me when she could have easily sent me on my way. I have the utmost respect for the IWK and their services as they followed through with every single physical and emotional issue that I ever raised to them.

– Tara

Make a gift to the IWK Health Centre Foundation. 


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The Golden Hour.

Jennifer Jollymore is a registered nurse in the Birthing Unit at the IWK Health Centre – a leading centre of excellence that provides quality care to women, children, youth and families in the Maritime provinces and beyond. 

A mother holds her new born child.

A mother holds her newborn child.

I’m sometimes amazed at how much change I’ve witnessed with regards to skin-to-skin contact (SSC) in the four short years since I graduated nursing school and began my career at the IWK Health Centre as a Birth Unit nurse. Not that long ago, it was still common practice for babies to be delivered and immediately transferred to the resuscitation area, whether they were at risk of needing resuscitation or not. The baby would be dried and then swaddled with blankets before being brought back to the parents for cuddles.

Sometimes, any number of interventions could take place between delivery and cuddles with mom and dad. Weighing, measuring, eye ointment, vitamin K injection, newborn head-to-toe assessments are all tasks that could have occurred prior to a new mother holding her just born baby for the first time.

Fast forward four years. Today on the Birth Unit, when there is a normal, uncomplicated delivery, babies are dried on mom’s chest, immediately placed skin-to-skin and left there uninterrupted for their first hour after birth. We like to call it the “Golden Hour.” During this hour, most assessments and procedures can be done while the baby is skin-to-skin with mom or with dad (if mom is unavailable or unwell).

The research behind skin-to-skin contact is abundant. We know that skin-to- skin facilitates newborn transition to life on the outside, stabilizing their temperature, blood sugar level and breathing. Skin-to-skin contact also prepares babies to initiate feeding.

It’s easy to observe and record all of the measurable advantages SSC offers such as those mentioned above. What is sometimes less obvious though are the bonding and attachment behaviors SSC promotes. In January 2013, we had the opportunity to follow-up with several families who had had a Golden Hour after their delivery. Mothers were contacted a couple of weeks after they went home from the IWK. When asked about their parenting experience to date, amazingly, all of the mothers talked about their skin-to-skin with their infant.

“What was best was that she got my smell right after birth – nestled right in after birth and stopped crying. It would not have been the same without that opportunity. It was much better for her (baby) and I fell in love right away,” said one mom about her experience.

There are so many benefits of skin-to -skin contact beyond the initial transition in the first hour of life and too many to go into detail about here. However, as the research has emerged highlighting the importance of SSC for newborns and parents at delivery, this is a practice that I’m proud to report is now routine at the IWK.

Learn more about skin-to-skin contact.


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That’s why I’m riding.

Dr. Crooks is a Pediatric Hematologist/Oncologist at the IWK Health Centre. This year he will be riding across Canada for the Sears National Kids Cancer Ride – one of the biggest and most ambitious charity cycling events on behalf of childhood cancer in the world.

There are so many reasons for challenging myself for doing this. But I think the impetus has to come from a wonderful young patient.

Dr. Bruce Crooks

Dr. Bruce Crooks

Years ago, I admitted and looked after her when she was diagnosed with, and started treatment for, Acute Lymphoblastic leukemia – the commonest childhood cancer. Even then she didn’t complain, but met the challenge head on and did what she had to do. Years later, and after a somewhat rocky road, she’s finishing her studies at university and is one of the strongest, most positive and assertive role models I’ve ever met. She took the cloud that’s leukemia, ripped it apart and kept the silver lining. That taught her so many life lessons at such an early age. Last year, she stood beside me as we welcomed the 2012 National Kids Cancer Ride to Halifax and said, “So how about doing this with me next year, Crooksy?” At that point how could I say no? And here I am.

I’m originally from the UK. When I first arrived in Canada I was immediately struck by just how BIG this country is compared with Europe. Distances are measured in hours and days, not miles or kilometres. There’s a huge amount of wilderness here – lakes and rocks and trees. Oh, and bears (one of my soft spots). So it’s hardly surprising that one of my dreams was to cross the continent – on foot!!! But here’s an opportunity to do it a different way and to do something amazing with that opportunity – something that’s very dear to my heart.

Professionally, I knew I wanted to work with kids during medical school and during my first part of postgraduate training, became fascinated with cancer and cancer therapy.   In my opinion, fun, humour and clowning around is a part of the healing process – childhood is a time of laughter, exploration and discovery. Why take away a child’s innocence and childhood just because they are dealing with some crummy disease and rotten treatments. If they love coming to see me, that makes everything so much better. And I’m not afraid to put my money where my mouth is and do something like a charity head shave, or event! Why not? It’s part of the rich tapestry of life.

Dr. Crooks will be cycling across Canada to raise money for childhood oncology programs.

Dr. Crooks will be cycling across Canada to raise money for childhood oncology programs.

I see both sides of the Coast to Coast Against Cancer Foundation: We all participate in the fundraising, and the events and the struggle to raise the money that is so desperately needed. And as a Pediatric Hematologist/Oncologist, I see where that money is widely spent – to improve the quality of life and care for our kids and families, to plough into medical research to devise better treatments, but also to learn where cancers come from – after all, prevention is better than a cure.

As I said to a mother not too long ago as she had just been told her child had leukemia, “This must seem to be the worst day of your life, but I’m here to try and make it better for you.”

I wish I never have to say those words again. That’s why I’m riding.

Learn more about the Sears National Kids Cancer ride.
Support Dr. Cooks on his ride across Canada.


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Happy 128th Birthday Izaak Walton Killam!

ImageThis past Tuesday, the IWK Health Centre Foundation celebrated the 128th birthday of Izaak Walton Killam, the namesake of the IWK Health Centre.

The celebration was held in the Goldboom Pavilion at the IWK, where patients, families and caregivers came together to celebrate the life of a man whose legacy continues to live on at the Health Centre. Everyone gathered to enjoy cake, ice cream and punch.

Izaak Walton Killam was born on July 23, 1885 and came from a family of merchants and ship owners in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Although he had limited formal education, his intense entrepreneurial drive combined with his talent for business, is what allowed him to flourish and gain a reputation of being one of the richest men in Canada at the time of his sudden death in 1955.

Izaak was survived by his beloved wife Dorothy who passed away in 1956. Dorothy created a Will that expressed plans that she and Izaak frequently discussed before he passed away. When she passed away just one year later, $8 million was donated to open the Izaak Walton Killam Hospital for Children in Halifax through her Estate.

This generous donation has played a significant role in making IWK Health Centre what it is today – a world-class, specialized care facility for all the Maritime women and children.

Thank you to those who came out and made this special day a success.


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Made-to-Order Independence

This article was written by Debra Wells-Hopey for the Spring/Summer issue of Izaak Magazine – an in-depth, behind the scenes, all-access publication highlighting the incredible, everyday happenings at the IWK Health Centre.

11-year-old Taya and occupational therapist Julia Gates

11-year-old Taya and occupational therapist Julia Gates

How a customized wheelchair program provides quality of life for hundreds of kids.

Taya is spirited, bright and patient as she describes the way she gets around in the world.

“When I move my head left, I turn left,” she says enthusiastically, even though she must have explained this to people many times over. “When I move my head right, I go right. And when I move my head back, I go straight forward.”

At 11 years-old, Taya has Cerebral Palsy and is a long time visitor to IWK Specialty Seating, a service within the IWK’s Rehabilitation Service. The service offers assessment and provision of customized seating and positioning equipment, including seating inserts, wheelchairs, special-needs strollers, bath seats, car seats and toileting aids.

Julia Gates, Occupational Therapist in Specialty Seating, and Nancy Cashen, Operations Manager for Rehabilitation Services, have known Taya since she was three years old. “This program is designed to assist children who can’t walk on their own, most often due to Spina Bifida, Muscular Dystrophy or Cerebral Palsy,” explained Gates. “Children are referred to the program as early as 14 months and stay with us until they are ready to transition to adult health care.”

Gates explained that although children this young are able to still use a stroller, it means they are dependent on others to get around — at an age when they want to start exploring the world on their own.

“Independence is an essential part in a child’s growth and development,” added Cashen.

Specialty Seating at the IWK consists of Cashen and Gates, as well as a Specialty Seating Technician, David Beattie, and a Funding Coordinator. Together, along with the family, this team determines what kind of wheelchair would be best for the child.

“We take many factors into account,” says Gates. “For instance, a level of hand mobility is essential for maneuvering a manual wheelchair, but not necessary for a power wheelchair.”

The amount of seating support required is a complex assessment that is completed by the occupational therapist and takes into account the disease prognosis, planned orthopaedic surgeries, maintenance of skin integrity, comfort, functional abilities and wheelchair skills. All children are different, and the amount of support required could be viewed as mild, moderate, or complex. Generally, seating for a mild support is not custom made, and may be arranged through a local wheelchair supplier in the community. The seating for children who require moderate or complex support is custom made by the Specialty Seating Service at the IWK.

There is a workshop onsite at the IWK where Beattie employs his expertise. For specialized seating, an impression is made on a mould that resembles a large bean bag. This shape can then be transferred to a 3D digital model on the computer. These images are sent via email to the United States where the only machine of its kind in North America manufactures the seat. It is then shipped to the IWK for fitting.

As for Beattie, he has been with the hospital since 1989. He was familiar with an Occupational Therapist who suggested he may enjoy the work. Considering Beattie has remained in the program for more than 24 years, it certainly is a great fit.

“This is the perfect job as far as I’m concerned,” says Beattie. “I get to work with my hands and help people simultaneously. The work is challenging and rewarding.”

Beattie’s workshop looks much like any other, yet very unlike anything you expect to see in a hospital. There are various materials stored: pieces of repurposed wheelchairs, three industrial-sized sewing machines, neoprene for upholstering, two band saws, a table saw and a wealth of tools.

“When we first see someone we measure them for a seat using a fitting frame. From these measurements I construct a seat out of foam and plywood and I upholster it. I also adjust and repair wheelchairs as needed. I’d say one of my favourite parts of my job is going on the mobile clinics. Several times a year we go to Cape Breton and the Annapolis Valley. At times we go to schools here in HRM, or even homes.”

Gates explained that the first order of business when a child needs a wheelchair or seating device is to meet with the family and get to know their needs.

“This initial meeting is so important,” says Gates. “It’s when we first get to meet the child; establishing their needs, administering a postural assessment, taking measurements, then making recommendations.”

“Recently we had a child who needed a new power wheelchair. We had two styles and tried them both in the home to see which operated better in that specific environment. It needs to work in the child’s daily life.”

Having the right wheelchair and seating can make all the difference in the world when it comes to quality of life — kids need to participate with classmates, explore their environment and have a sense of independence.

“When a child receives their first wheelchair it is often a period of growth for both the parents and the child,” says Gates.

Taya’s mother Christine knows all about it. She has been taking Taya to Specialty Seating and working with the team for eight years. Taya was only three when she received her first wheelchair and met the group at Specialty Seating. She was outgrowing a stroller at this point, not only in a physical way but also as a growing child her needs were changing — she had a desire to be independent, to be able to explore the world on her own.

“Although she was small enough to still use the stroller, it no longer seemed to be the appropriate choice,”explained her mom. “The chair was so much better for her

Izaak#Provincial#05-02-2013#A01posture, and allowed her to be eye level with her peers. Her diaphragm was also better supported which made her breathing and therefore her speaking so much better.”

Taya was born with cerebral palsy. She enjoys her grade five class and likes to read — especially Harry Potter books. She also swims and uses a sit ski at Wentworth ski hill.

“I have both a manual and a power chair,” explained Taya. “I use the power chair at school. Some places are easier to use a wheelchair in than others though.”

Although Taya drives herself around by using head movements, the wheelchair must be steered remotely by a device similar to a joystick when it is being loaded into the family van. Apparently, according to a laughing Taya, dad is an expert at it, while mom, who is quick to agree, isn’t as deft.

Taya was eight when she got her first power chair. She started at six years old “training” with a joy stick, but it was a lot of work and a head array began to make more sense. The family visits Specialty Seating about once a year.

“To a certain extent, the chairs grow with her. Especially the manual chair, which she will have for about eight years,” explains Christine. “The power chair needs changes or replacing more frequently.”

As for cost, the family is fortunate that both Christine and her husband have good health care plans, however, they still certainly incur costs. The head array alone cost $10,000, which is as much as the chair. Then there are the costs of converting the family van with a manual ramp that has to be lifted and unfolded. A power system is even more expensive. This is the reality for families with a wheelchair. Taya gets to continue to visit the team at Specialty Seating until she is ready to transition to adult health care.

“I can’t say enough about the program and the staff,” says Christine. “When your child is first diagnosed, you’re in a daze. You don’t know where to go or what to do. They have helped us immensely, even in emergency situations.”

One such situation was during a weekend when Taya’s chair was accidentally run over, crushing one of the wheels. It meant facing a whole weekend propped up or in bed. Not a great thought for a young, energetic girl like Taya. Christine contacted Gates and Beattie who were more than willing to go into work on a Saturday to get the chair fixed. Says Taya, “Dave and Julia are extremely nice people and I would come to them all my life if I could.”

And there’s no higher praise than that.

To read the full issue of Izaak magazine visit www.iwkfoundation.org/izaak

Make a gift to the IWK Health Centre Foundation.


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Breathing Space

This article was written by Tom Mason for the Spring/Summer issue of Izaak Magazine – an in-depth, behind the scenes, all-access publication highlighting the incredible, everyday happenings at the IWK Health Centre.Dr. Laine Johnson brings highly-specialized airway reconstruction surgery to the IWK

Larkin looks at the plastic fish and bubbles

Larkin looks at the plastic fish and bubbles

Larkin Pottle was born four years ago with tracheomalacia, bronchomalacia, and subglottic stenosis of her trachea — conditions that severely restricted her ability to breathe on her own. Her parents, Rhonda and Brent Pottle, struggled with the tracheotomy that allowed her to survive the process. As she grew, breathing on her own started to look

Like a possibility; surgery to allow this to happen was the next step for the Pottle family. Tracheotomies are one of the most vital surgical procedures in modern medicine, but they are actually very old. The surgery is depicted on Egyptian artifacts more than 5,000 years old and described in Sanskrit texts from around 2,000 BC. A tracheotomy involves placing a tube through an incision in the neck to bypass the nose and mouth and allow air directly into the trachea. Every year they save countless lives; but for most young children who have undergone the procedure,

a normal life doesn’t begin until the tube has been successfully removed. That can prove to be difficult.

Dr. Liane Johnson uses a scope to view Larkin's airway.

Dr. Liane Johnson uses a scope to view Larkin’s airway.

That’s where Dr. Liane Johnson comes in. Dr. Johnson is a pediatric airway surgeon at the IWK, the only doctor in Atlantic Canada to perform a specialized form of airway reconstruction surgery in children. The innovative technique involves using the child’s own rib cartilage to expand the scarred airway to attempt to achieve a normal diameter airway (air passage). Because the technique relies on tissue from the child’s own body, there are no issues with rejection.

Dr. Johnson learned the complex procedure during a two-year fellowship at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center under world-renowned pediatric otolaryngologist Dr. Robin Cotton, who pioneered the technique 30 years ago. She has already performed about 20 of the surgeries at the IWK. She says the procedure offers the patient and family a degree of independence that is life-changing.

“With proper patient selection, they can be very successful surgeries,” she says. “It’s rewarding to see the results.”

Larkin Pottle’s conditions were serious and because she needed constant medical care, Larkin could never be left alone. This left her family with the task of learning how to take care of her properly at home. Any kind of mucus plug or blockage of the tracheostomy tube could also be disastrous. It was a 24-hour-a-day job for Rhonda and Brent,

one that required plenty of professional help. “We had to get professional respite care at night so that we could get some sleep,” says Rhonda.

Rhonda Pottle cuddles her daughter Larkin Pottle as they wait for Larkin's appointment at the IWK.

Rhonda Pottle cuddles her daughter Larkin Pottle as they wait for Larkin’s appointment at the IWK.

Along with the basic skills that every new mother learns — feeding Larkin and changing her diapers — Rhonda quickly became adept at a number of medical techniques, including suctioning a tracheotomy tube and performing mouth to trach resuscitation. If Larkin accidentally removed the tracheostomy tube, the Larkin family had to be prepared to perform CPR.

“It’s not that difficult. Anyone can learn to do it as long as they’re not afraid of it,” says Rhonda. Larkin was approaching her second birthday when doctors discovered she was breathing through her nose and mouth around the tracheotomy tube. It was good news. It meant the airway was growing and the problem was correcting itself. But scar tissue had formed, and Larkin’s airway needed to be repaired before the incision in her trachea could be permanently closed.

This picture was taken at the level of the vocal cords showing complete obstruction of the subglottic airway, just beyond the vocal cords.

This picture was taken at the level of the vocal cords showing complete obstruction of the subglottic airway, just beyond the vocal cords.

Rhonda began the search for a doctor who could do the surgery. She and her husband had already made plans to travel from their Stephenville, Newfoundland home to Cincinnati to meet with Dr. Cotton when they heard about the IWK program. “I heard there was a doctor in Halifax who had studied with Dr. Cotton and was using the same procedure.” The Pottle’s first visit to Halifax was a little disappointing. Dr. Johnson examined Larkin and told the family to come back in three months for reassessment as it was

too soon for the operation. “That’s the hardest thing to say to parents: ‘She’s not ready,’” says Dr. Johnson. “But if you do the surgery too early the consequences can be devastating. The last thing I want to do is set up a spiral of failure. Sometimes it’s just safer to wait.”

This picture was taken just below the vocal cords showing a completely open subglottic airway following placement of rib grafts.

This picture was taken just below the vocal cords showing a completely open subglottic airway following placement of rib grafts.

When the day finally came, it was a long one. The Pottles spent eight hours waiting for Larkin’s surgery to end. Dr. Johnson constructed two rib grafts to expand the damaged airway, placing them carefully in the trachea below the little girl’s voice box. When it was over she was sedated and ventilated in the intensive care unit for nine days, but after stent removal she was soon breathing on her own. It was a success.

There have already been many milestones for the Pottle family. Larkin had a bout of the flu during the winter – a normal rite of passage for most four-year-olds, but one that would have brought on a serious medical crisis before the surgery. This time it was no big deal, says Rhonda. The family left for a Florida vacation in March, the first family trip since Larkin was born that didn’t centre around a medical appointment. Most importantly, Larkin is gaining a measure of independence that she didn’t have before. She’s getting ready to attend preschool and is making friends her own age for the first time. “She loves other kids,” says Rhonda. “Finally she can be a kid herself.”

To read the full issue of Izaak magazine visit www.iwkfoundation.org/izaak

Make a gift to the IWK Health Centre Foundation.