Spirit of Giving

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You never know what lies ahead for you, your family, or friends.

IWK Health Centre Patient, Ben Harris

Ben Harris

Have you ever wondered what IWK stands for?  Officially “Izaak Walton Killam Health Centre” but to me it means, “Investing in Wonderful Kids”.  It is a truly inspiring place that we, as Maritime parents, treat as an insurance policy – we want to have it if we need it but hope to never have to use it.  At least that was our philosophy until the day we needed it and our appreciation for the IWK became a reality.

That day came for us shortly after Ben’s fourth birthday.  Our healthy active boy came down with a cold.  It was just a cold, not so bad as to require medical attention but enough of a cold to keep him home from daycare.  Then, little purple dots appeared all over his body and this Mommy went into panic mode. We went to see his family doctor immediately.  Those purple dots were petechiaean indication of low platelets which a blood test confirmed. We were admitted to the Prince Country Hospital in Summerside, PEI.

It was here that Ben was given his first round of IVIG (intravenous immunoglobulin – a plasma protein replacement therapy that is given to immune deficient patients who have decreased antibody production capabilities) to help boost his platelet count.  During this transfusion he had a reaction and the transfusion had to be stopped.  This was the day our relationship with the IWK began through consultation with our local hospital.  When Ben’s numbers failed to rebound we were sent to the IWK for an appointment with hematology and for bone marrow testing.  Bone marrow results revealed that everything was working fine and because of his history of reacting to the treatment we again decided to give his body time to repair.

As time went on his platelet numbers failed to increase. He underwent another bone marrow test and consult with oncology. The results once again revealed that his bone marrow was working perfectly fine. Next we were sent to immunology.  Here his immunologist, hematologist and oncologist thoroughly tested Ben for every possible cause. All of these tests resulted in a diagnosis – Ben suffers from autoimmune conditions called thrombocytopenia and neutropenia.  Ben has had bone marrow testing, ultrasounds, MRIs, x-rays, blood work, and even dental checks at the IWK to ensure his health is being fully and continuously monitored.

While his team hasn’t been able to isolate the cause of his condition they have safely and confidently found a way to manage his platelet count which allows him to run and play!

So why should we give to the IWK?  The answer is simple; you don’t know when you are going to get a phone call saying that the specialists there want to see you the next morning.  You never know what lies ahead for you, your family or friends.  Having a facility that focuses on children and all their intricacies in our region is worth supporting.

Please consider supporting the upcoming IWK Radiothon on 95.1 FM CFCY presented by Credit Unions and the Co-operators Agents of PEI.

Sincerely, Heather Harris (Ben’s mom)

Learn more about Ben and other PEI IWK patients during the IWK Radiothon on 95.1 FM CFCY, presented by Credit Unions and The Co-operators Agents of PEI – broadcasting live October 30, 2014. Thank you to our generous sponors: 95.1 FM CFCY, Credit Unions, The Co-operators Agents of PEI, Charlottetown Mall, Rodd Hotels, and Global Convention Services.

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A day I’ll not soon forget.

Laura MacAulay is a Member Service Counsellor at CAA Atlantic in Charlottetown, PEI and mother to Alexander and Porter, IWK patients.

July 8th, 2013, is one day I’ll not soon forget. At 28 weeks pregnant with twin boys I found myself being airlifted to the IWK from my local hospital here on P.E.I. My blood pressure was high enough they thought they may have to deliver my premature babies that night. After arriving to labour and delivery at the IWK, the amazing nurses and doctors where able to keep me comfortable and calm with their knowledge and equipment. They were able to stabilize my vitals enough for me to be admitted to the maternity ward on strict bed rest.

Premature baby

Alexander at three days’s old

During my three weeks of bed rest, I was “alone” as my husband had to return to P.E.I. to work. The nurses and doctors couldn’t do enough for me, something as little as getting me a drink, an extra blanket, or even just a short conversation to pass time. Without the kindness of the staff at the IWK I don’t think my period of bed rest would have been as pleasant as it was. I never really felt “alone”.

Part of my stay consisted of ultrasounds every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to keep an eye on the babies’ development. The first ultrasound determined that baby A had restricted growth (no or reversed blood flow from the placenta through the umbilical cord) which caused him to be tiny and not grow as well as he should. The restricted growth was thought to be caused by my high blood pressure and unfortunately, there was not much that could be done but monitor the blood flow. The doctors were very informative and pointed out all the parts of the babies. They even showed me when the babies had hiccups; nothing big, but their professional bedside manner was comforting when I didn’t know what was going to happen or when. We took things day by day, and every day they were growing on the inside I felt better about what was to come.

Premature baby in incubator

Porter at three day’s old.

The day my life changed forever was the day my precious angels came into this world at 31 weeks. The day started out normal. I went for my usual ultrasound but they discovered a reverse flow of blood going back through baby A’s cord so, then and there, the doctor decided it was time to meet these little boys. Baby A, my little Alexander, was born first, weighing 2lbs 4oz, and two minutes later his brother, Porter, was born, weighing 3lbs 3oz. Unfortunately my husband did not make it over to the IWK in time to witness the boys being born, but I never felt alone as the nurses were always there to update me on what was happening and even take some pictures of the teeny tiny babies.

Even with the boys being born so small and so early, they were troopers, and had very few health problems. Premature babies often have lung issues, so when I got to see my little angels for the first time I was not surprised to see them with a CPAP machine hooked up. The little mask covering their noses was forcing room air into their lungs to clean them out and get the lungs working strongly. Within 24 hours of their birth, the boys had a drug called BLES (bovine lipid extract surfactant) put down into their lungs – which in my opinion is the miracle drug. Within 12-24 hours, the CPAP was gone and the boys just had nasal prongs to give them air until they were strong enough to breathe on their own. Eight days after Alex and Porter were born they were strong enough to be sent home to our local hospital.

The fantastic doctors and nurses at the IWK were fast acting, attentive, knowledgeable and caring. Without them and their state-of-the-art equipment, the outcome could have been much different and my healthy happy sons might not be with us today.

Twin boys

Alex & Porter, 7 months old.

The IWK will always hold a special place in my heart, especially now that I had a personal experience. I realize how important it is to have this facility in our region. Through my work, we are now raising money through a raffle for a trip for two. Proceeds will go to the IWK Foundation and the Janeway Foundation in Newfoundland. We also do weekly “dress down” days.

Make a gift to the IWK Foundation.
Learn more about fundraising for the IWK Foundation.

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Change Makers – Sonja

This article is a series of three, written by Tom Mason for the Fall 2013/Winter 2014 issue of Izaak Magazine – an in-depth, behind the scenes, all-access publication highlighting the incredible, everyday happenings at the IWK Health Centre. A stay at the hospital can be tough, but for some exceptional young people, it’s also a time to grow , gain strength and learn about who they are. 

Sonja Weilgart-Whitehead

Sonja Weilgart-Whitehead

At the age of 18, Sonja Weilgart-Whitehead is already an old hand at talking to the media. The Herring Cove teenager was just 15 when she spearheaded a media campaign that focused attention on evacuation policies at Halifax Schools – a campaign that changed those policies for students with mobility issues.

Sonja has quadriplegic cerebral palsy, a condition that comes with significant mobility challenges. “My high school had an evacuation policy that said they couldn’t carry disabled persons out of the building because it would risk injuring the person responsible for carrying the,” she says. “Instead, we were supposed to go to a designated safe area and wait for the fire department.” But the designated safe room in Sonja’s high school was located right above a propane tank, with furniture blocking the only window that rescue personnel could use to access it. “I know that if my school ever wet up in flames, I was going to be toast.”

I was a situation that Sonja had no intention of ignoring. She and her mother contacted the media and began a series of interviews to shed light on the topic. The campaign immediately caught the attention of Nova Scotia cabinet ministers Ramona Jennex and Marilyn Moore who offered her an apology and set out to change the school policy. “They changed it for everyone in the province,” she says. “It means a lot, even though I was almost ready to graduate. With the old policy, it was like they were saying my life wasn’t as valued as the other students.”

Sonja is used to overcoming challenges. Her first extended stay at the IWK began the day she was born, when she was 18 months old. She’s made many trips to the hospital since then. “Over the last six years I’ve been getting a lot better because of a phenomenal surgery that the IWK gave me. Now I can walk without tangling by feet, without being crumpled over. I can swim a lot better too. It’s forever changed by life.”

Today, Sonja is studying for her Bachelor of Arts (honours) degree at Carleton University in Ottawa, and received the Robbie and Jean Shaw Scholarship. She plans to go on to become a lawyer advocating for people with disabilities. She chose the university because of its unique program for physically challenged students – a program that includes 24/7 attendant services and full wheelchair accessibility. She is also nationally-classified para-swimmer on the Carleton varsity swim team and involved in horseback riding, sailing, skiing and rock climbing.

This story and many exciting others are available for FREE though Izaak Magazine’s fully interactive mobile app, available for download on the iTunes Newstand and Google play. You can also read Izaak magazine online through your desktop computer.

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Your support REALLY makes a difference.

National Philanthropy Day, on November 15th , is an especially meaningful day to the IWK Foundation.  It allows us to recognize and celebrate our donors for their year-round philanthropy in support of the IWK. The following is written by Brenda Murchison, mom to IWK patient, Parker.

Parker at the IWK Health Centre

Parker at the IWK Health Centre

People often ask me how I felt when I learned my then 8-year-old son, Parker, had cancer. I was in the emergency room; it was a rainy afternoon.  An amazingly kind doctor arrived to speak with me.  He did what all doctors do, opened with small talk, asked a few questions and did a physical exam on Parker.    As he spoke, I looked at his identification tag and one word stood out: “Oncology”.

Instantly, I felt numb and panicked…as if the ceiling was going to cave in.

“No!” I thought to myself. “Parker is such a cool kid. He loves to read, curl, ski and play volleyball & lacrosse.  He’s kind and polite.  How can this happen to him?”

As reality set in, I felt an aching pain all over, as I realized what my little boy would have to endure to heal his body.  Tests. Needles. Medication. Physical weakness. Loss of his soft, curly hair. Nausea.

Somehow, my husband Bruce and I knew we needed to pull ourselves together and make the best of an awful situation.  That helped us set the tone for the next three-and-a-half years of Parker’s treatment.

Bruce, Parker, Carter and Brenda Murchison

Bruce, Parker, Carter and Brenda Murchison

This journey has been as much about healing our whole family as it was about healing Parker.  It has helped us focus on what’s really important in life.  Our priorities shifted because we became intimately aware of a whole new world…the world of sick kids, cancer and amazing people, including donors like you.

Recently, Parker began his 12th and final round of chemotherapy.  He spent the day in the newly renovated oncology outpatient clinic on the sixth floor, hooked up to two smart pumps and wrapped in warm blankets from the blanket warmer.  He was entertained by his good friend Buddington, our Therapeutic Clown before drifting off to sleep attached to a new anesthesia machine.  For the first time, I had a real appreciation of donor impact – that’s because the renovation of our oncology unit, the purchase of smart pumps and anesthesia machine and funding for Buddington were all donor funded.  Parker was surrounded by the generosity of complete strangers from all around the Maritimes.  In essence, my son was surrounded by the generosity of complete strangers who simply wanted him to be well.

Parker Murchison.

Parker Murchison.

As Parker’s treatment was nearing its end, I realized my IWK journey was just beginning.  I felt compelled to give back. Like many other families who experience the IWK, I wished I had a million dollars to give. Instead, I was fortunate to begin working for the IWK Foundation, with donors like you, who are helping families like mine.  I began witnessing the outpouring of generosity of donors from around the Maritimes – all to help women and children who need the IWK.  I realized the IWK environment I had come to know over the past three years would not be what it is today without donors like you.

Parker completed his treatment on September 15th and is living a great life.  It is an honour for me to write this message on National Philanthropy DayYour support REALLY makes a difference.  Donors like you have made the IWK Health Centre exceptional.  Thank you for caring and for giving.

I hope you enjoy this video of Parker thanking donors like you.  Needless to say I am extremely proud!

~ Brenda

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I wanted to do more.

Andrew Paris, Administrative Assistant at the IWK Health Centre Foundation

Andrew Paris, Administrative Assistant at the IWK Health Centre Foundation

The IWK Health Centre has always been very special me and now I’m  truly blessed to now be working for the IWK Health Centre Foundation. My connection to the Health Centre and IWK Foundation started when I was no taller than the desk I’m at right now.

I’m originally from Summerside, Prince Edward Island and began watching the IWK Telethon when I was three years old with my mother. We always made sure to make a donation every year. As I grew up and began going to school, there was always a kid in the school who, for one reason or another, used the Health Centre. I even grew up with a few people who wouldn’t be around today if it wasn’t for that great facility. For this reason and my love for watching the Telethon, I began fundraising for the IWK when I was eight. I, my friends and family would have bake sales, yard sales, bottle drives and all kinds of different things to raise money for the IWK. We all had a great time with every fundraiser that we put on, but I wanted to do more.

When I was eleven, I said that I one day want to answer telephones for the Telethon. Well, in 2004, my dream came true. I got to answer telephones during the first shift on Saturday night. I was in awe! The atmosphere was amazing! I got to meet Steve Murphy and Bill Carr, just to name a few. There was nothing that could wipe that smile off my face! I’ve volunteered at almost every Telethon since. But, after the Telethon 28 in 2012, I wanted to do more.

Soon after that night I sent out a Tweet mentioning how much I enjoyed myself at Telethon and let the Foundation know that if they needed help, I’m available. A few hours later, a Foundation staff member replied asking for my contact information. I knew this was my in! I was so excited that I absolutely inundated her with Tweets and emails about how excited I was to possibly help with Telethon 29. I swear she gave me the Telethon’s chair information just to keep me quiet. Next thing I knew, I was on the Telethon operations committee for Halifax. I was in charge of the hundreds of Telethon phone operators and captains. I was very nervous at first, but Telethon 29 was an enormous success. Everything went great with the phone operators and captains. As the Telethon was wrapping up I realized, I wanted to do more.

A couple of days after Telethon 29, there was a job opening at the Foundation and I said to myself: “The only thing better than working with the operations committee for three months of the year, would be working with the Foundation for 365 days of the year.”

I applied for the job and a nerve-wracking 4 weeks later, I got it! My wife and two kids have had to go to the hospital on multiple occasions. I love the IWK and the Foundation so much! Working here every day is great! I go home every evening with a smile on my face knowing that I did my own little part towards making the IWK Health Centre the best it can be. I’m currently an Administrative Assistant with the Foundation, but who knows, maybe down the road, I’ll get to do more.

Get involved with the IWK Health Centre Foundation.

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Laps for Loonies

Adam Ramsay is an on-air personality for 95.1  FM CFCY, and will be participating along with Q93 personalities in the Laps for Loonies event on April 12 from 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. at Charlottetown Mall.

Adam Ramsay, 95.1 FM CFCY Radio personality

Adam Ramsay, 95.1 FM CFCY Radio personality

There are so many incredible charitable organizations and wonderful causes in our communities to support today that it’s easy to find disappointment within yourself for not being able to champion them all. But maybe the silver lining comes from the thought that perhaps the groups you do choose to support, and dedicate your time, energy and resources to, are chosen because they best reflect who you are and where you feel the closest connection to through the moments  you’ve experienced.

For me, the IWK Foundation (and the Children’s Hospital it represents) is one of those causes that hits home and inspires me to do what I can to support all those who touch the organization.  Many years ago, my sister was born at the IWK, more than three months premature.  And as I grow more into adulthood I’m seeing friends, co-workers, and more members of my community rely on the services and the special care of the IWK.  It’s hard not to feel close to an organization that has been such an integral part in the lives of the important people around us.

Through the Laps For Loonies fundraising event that we have developed in Charlottetown, I’m hoping to be a part of a day that will look to raise thousands for a cause that is so important to pursue. Through a simple act of walking ‘laps’ inside the largest shopping centre on the Island, we’re hoping to be a part of something much bigger – something that will help families who are not yet even aware they will need the assistance of the IWK, be taken care of when their time of need arrives.

And for me, that’s a cause more than worthy of championing.

Thank you Adam for you support! Don’t forget to tune in to 95.1 FM CFCY on April 25 & 26 as we broadcast live from Charlottetown Mall for the IWK Radiothon – Proudly presented by Investor’s Group. 

Make a gift to the IWK Foundation. 

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Without the IWK I would be short two daughters

Anne Van Donkersgoed is a mother of three beautiful daughters, and author of  ‘The Year Of The Babies’. 

Ed and Anne Van Donkersgoed with daughters Emma, Sarah and Gracie.

Without the IWK I would be short two daughters! … Let me explain. From as far back as I can remember I wanted to be a mom. It wasn’t until 2011 that being a mother became a reality. We were able to adopt three beautiful girls! Twenty-two month old Gracie came in January. Nine month old Emma came in June. Sarah came as a newborn in August. Three little miracles all in one year! I am truly blessed.

That’s only part of the story. Emma was born at the IWK and her birth mom was told there was a good chance Emma would not survive birth. She did survive and with the help of the IWK team she lived to become ours. She has complex congenital heart disease and will be monitored by the IWK Heart Center for years to come.

Sarah was born on PEI and for the first five weeks appeared to be doing great. She was welcomed and loved by her sisters and we were settling into the busy but fun routine of feedings, cuddles, and sleeps. On September 27/11 I took Sarah to our family doctor, expecting to be reassured that she was fine. Within minutes we were on our way to the QEH in Charlottetown and within hours she was in the air on the way to the IWK. She was deteriorating before our eyes. Three days later, on her six week birthday, she was diagnosed with stage 4s neuroblastoma. The cancer itself is very curable/treatable with a great prognosis. Her problem was that her abdomen was so swollen it was affecting her other organs and making it difficult for her to breathe. Sarah survived because of the treatment she received in the PICU at the IWK. After ten weeks in hospitals, Sarah came home on December 9/11. She was declared cancer free on March 2/12 – my birthday!

So, as I said at the beginning, if it wasn’t for the IWK I would be short two daughters! These amazing stories are what inspired me to write a book entitled The Year of Babies. It is my hopes that in reading my story, others may be encouraged on their difficult journeys.

I can’t imagine life without my three girls. That is why when I launch my book on December 9, 2012 I will do it as a fundraiser for the IWK. My hope is that my story will inspire others to care enough to give. It is through our collective giving that the IWK is there for the Emma’s and Sarah’s of this world!


Make a gift to the IWK Health Centre Foundation.