will to survive

It’s been 9 years since I walked out the doors of the BC Children’s Hospital.

I was 18 years old.

I remember not feeling ready to leave, but they kept on telling me. It’s time. It’s time…

Not a day goes by that the BC Children’s Hospital (BCCH) is not present in my heart. I can’t define my moments there as good or bad — they just shaped me into who I am today.

My first time at BCCH was unplanned. I was 12 years old and it was Christmas Eve. Somehow I ended up getting staff infection above my right eye. A disgusting golf ball of an eye formed, I couldn’t open it and the doctors were worried about me losing my sight. I was rushed to Vancouver for emergency surgery. I remember being in the Emergency Room (likely totally losing my cool) and they came by with a Gund teddy bear. They were doing everything possible to ensure that all the children still had a bright Christmas. They had me confined for days and about 10 days later I was released. I was in Grade 6 and officially had the lamest Christmas break ever. We celebrated Christmas in late January that year and I remember feeling ridiculously self-conscious. My eye took a long time to heel and I wore a big ass white bandage over it to keep it clean. Photos were my nightmare.

The second time I visited BCCH was to enter a formal relationship with the outpatient Scoliosis clinic. Just a few months after my surgery, I was diagnosed with Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis. I was at a fundraiser for the BCCH on Salt Spring Island and a stranger came up to me and said “You have Scoliosis. You need to go to the doctor.” I looked at her like any crazy child might and was like…. “Right.” I reported back to my mother and we made an appointment with my GP. Well guess what… I owe a lot to that random woman. In 1997 I was diagnosed and in May 1999, I underwent a spinal fusion with instrumentation. It can also be explained as they sliced me up from my neck to tailbone and attached steel to my spine. It took 12 hours and involved rods, screws, hooks and a bone graft. I have next to no memory of the days that followed. About three days later my Orthopedic Surgeon walked in the room… I remember looking at him and being like — “Why did we do this again?” The pain was horrendous. If we hadn’t done the surgery, I wouldn’t be alive to speak of it today.

My spine had progressed from 0 to 65 degrees in less than 18 months.  In the days post-surgery, I learned to breathe (my lungs had suffered), sit up (oy… poker straight back), walk (I grew a few inches) and re-learn activities like climbing stairs.  In the months post-surgery, I learned to adapt to my new way of life — pain, inability to sleep, general neuroticism :) and a lack of self-confidence that came from a mighty big scar. I was told I could carry no more than 10lbs at a time (no textbooks!) and no contact sports for two years. Things weren’t always bright back then but hell did I learn a lot.

Every time I was told I had to go back to the BCCH for follow-up and Scoliosis scans… I got excited. Slowly but surely I was making progress. I loved my surgeon, Dr. Stephen Tredwell, and the orthopedic team. They were my bright lights throughout the whole process. They motivated me to strive high and put expectation on me to continue working, attend university, start my career, have a family, etc. They wanted to ensure that I would consider myself no different than anyone else, to take what I had learned from the BCCH and this experience and use it to help me grow.

In the years that followed, I checked in with the BCCH less frequently. Part of me was terrified for the day that I would be released from their care. Being a children’s hospital, they generally only keep patients until the age of 19ish. If you require more treatment, you’re transferred to an ‘adult hospital.’ Shortly before my last appointment, Dr. Treadwell, advised that he no longer needed to care for me. My spine was stable.

I sent Dr. Treadwell updates, letters and Christmas cards for years. I had – and have – utmost respect for the man. He is Head of the Pediatric Ortheopedic department at BCCH and everyday he is teaching medical students and colleagues how to treat spinal deformity and pediatric trauma. Everyday he spreads light and love to children around British Columbia.

So what brought this all top of mind tonight? A singer, songwriter and guitar playing machine, Calvin Locke, tweeted out a link to the video, asking followers to take 10 minutes and give it a watch:

The video tells the story of a young lady named Logan Johnson-Lay. In 2005, Logan was diagnosed with cancer and since then has had 4 brain surgeries and 153 chemotherapy treatments and 31 doses of brain and spine radiation.

In 2010, Logan was chosen to be the Champion Child of the BC Children’s Hospital Foundation – Child Run. It was the run’s 25th anniversary of raising money for childhood cancers and Logan’s 5th anniversary since her diagnosis.

Calvin will be on the road across Canada over the coming months and will be donating all album proceeds from iTunes to a charity of Logan’s choice. One of Logan’s friends recently passed away… a young lady by the name of Megan McNeil. When Megan was 16 years old, she was diagnosed with cancer and began treatment at the BCCH.

Just by reading a few of Megan’s blog posts tonight, I can tell that she was an incredible woman. Megan started a non-profit called Will to Survive. The goal is to assist families who have children battling cancer. In January 2011, at the age of 20, Megan passed away.

All proceeds from Calvin’s tour will support Megan’s legacy by being donated to Will to Survive. Calvin’s album is titled: “Yukon to St. John’s.

Megan encouraged children to keep on fighting. Her video, “Will to Survive”:

I am thankful that children have resources like the BC Children’s Hospital. I am thankful that medical students choose to specialize in pediatrics. I am thankful that children have other children to look up to.

Regardless of illness, trauma or tragedy — positivity will carry children through thick and thin.

Logan and Megan, you are both an inspiration.

I admire your dedication to your own health and to the health and spirit of others.

With all my heart. ❤

Learn more:


  1. Chelsea K July 26, 2011

    Wonderful story and beautiful blog post: I had no idea you went through this.

  2. Jillian Walker August 8, 2011

    I like to keep you on your toes. ;)

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