This article is a series of three, written by Tom Mason for theFall 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.
Jacqueline Wigle is busier than the average 20-year-old. In addition to a full slate of classes at Dalhousie University, where she majors in theatre studies, she devotes much of her spare time to helping young people cope with illness.
Jacqueline volunteers with “You’re in Charge” an IWK program that helps teenagers with chronic diseases and their parents learn to manage their own health. She also volunteers with Camp Brigadoon, a camp for kids with chronic illnesses in the Annapolis Valley. She advocates for social inclusion for children with developmental delays, speaks out about Crohn’s disease, and works with young people to help them through their own health issues.
Her drive to help others is matched with her empathy. Jacqueline was first diagnosed with Crohn’s disease – a painful, and often severe, inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract – when she was 12. Her treatments meant at least eight lengthy stays at the IWK where she would undergo a procedure known as total parenteral nutrition (TPN) that provides all her food through intravenous fluids, a procedure designed to give her inflamed intestinal tract a rest. The TPN treatments often lasted two weeks at a time – a strain on any busy teenager.
“The hardest part is craving food,” she says. “I’d be okay until I saw food commercials on TV and then I would really start to miss the taste of it.”
Jacqueline calls Crohn’s “an unsexy illness” and says that sufferers often get ignored because of the stigma attached to a digestive disorder. “Let’s face it. It isn’t an easy thing to talk about,” she says.
Two years ago, as a member of the IWK Youth Advisory Council, Jacqueline headed up a project called “Passionate for T.P.” to lobby for better quality toilet paper for inpatients with gastrointestinal disease. “Patients with those kinds of problems spend a lot of time going to the bathroom,” she says. “Having a good quality toilet paper can be very comforting and helpful for them” Thanks to those efforts, today IWK inpatients can access higher quality toilet paper whenever they need it.
She manages to do it the way she meets every challenge in her life: through humour. “The best thing you can do when you’re dealing with something like this is to stay positive and try not to take things too seriously. If you allow yourself to see the funny side, it’s a whole lot easier to get through it.” That’s where her love of theatre, music and dance comes in.
“What matters is to be happy. That’s why I got involved with theatre and that’s why I got involved with the IWK. I wanted to be able to see my own hospital experience in a positive way. I wanted to get something positive from my illness.”
In the spring of 2013, Jacqueline received the Robbie and Jean Shaw Scholarship, an award given to former IWK patients who have made a difference in their community. She hopes to go to law school when she graduates and would like to channel her passion for advocating on behalf of young patients into a law career.
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