This September, our team is committed to getting active and fundraising for SickKids GetLoud presented by PCL Construction. We’re joining thousands of other SickKids supporters to build a new SickKids. $2 million is our collective fundraising goal, and it’s going to take all of us to get there.
SickKids has always been on the front lines in the fight for children’s health. One of our team mates, Karen Stevenson was a SickKids kid in 1984 when she was diagnosed with aplastic anemia. Her story told through the eyes of her mom follows.
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Sick Kids Saves The Day, by Bonnie Stevenson, Karen’s mom.
In the winter of 1984, my daughter, Karen Stevenson, became a “miracle” child at Sick Kids Hospital.
Diagnosed with aplastic anemia the previous September, Karen’s bone marrow was shutting down for no apparent reason. Her bone marrow’s ability to produce new blood cells was failing, weakening her immune system, leaving her oxygen levels dangerously low, and compromising her blood’s ability to clot. To keep her alive, she would go through well over 40 blood transfusions in the coming months.
At London’s War Memorial Childrens Hospital, Karen was treated with prednisone and other known therapies, but she was eventually deemed terminal after all therapies failed. Her health deteriorated rapidly and a bone marrow transplant, still considered to be a risky option in the early years of its development, was deemed the only option remaining if she was to have any chance of survival. Fortunately, Karen’s two-year-old sister, Christine, was found to be a suitable marrow donor.
On Dec. 19, 1983, Karen and her father, Kenneth, were flown to Toronto by medical transport where she was admitted to Sick Kids Hospital and prepared for transplant. We were hopeful the procedure could be done as soon as possible, but it wasn’t to be. We were informed Christine had been in contact with a child who had chicken pox. The transplant was put on hold for over a month. Dr. Fred Saunders and his team had to make sure Christine’s bone marrow would be free of the virus.
The entire hospital staff on Karen’s hospital floor was phenomenal. Their good care and bright, positive attitudes kept Karen’s spirits high. But in private, Kenneth and I were told, “…she’s a very, very sick little girl” who was considered, “high risk.”
Finally, the day came when Karen was transferred to one of the hospital’s six germ-free, positive-pressure isolation rooms. Karen received doses of strong medications that effectively killed off what remained of her immune system.
On Feb. 7, 1984, Christine was admitted to Sick Kids where, under general anesthetic, 150 samples of bone marrow were extracted from her pelvis. The marrow was filtered, cleaned and bagged, then taken to Karen’s room and administered through her central intravenous line. Kenneth, who was with her during the infusion, said, “There was a calm feeling of ‘Well this is it’. This is what we had been waiting for.”
Christine recovered quickly from the anesthetic and spent the rest of her two-day hospitalization pushing an IV pole up and down the corridors playing “car-car”. On discharge day, the incredibly tolerant surgical floor staff waved good-bye to her, no doubt relieved to see her strut into the elevator.
Karen endured the next six weeks like a champion while we held our breaths and watched her successfully fight “graft versus host” disease, a transplant hazard where the transplanted bone marrow attacks the host. Her daily nourishment came from the contents of two daily IV bags filled with a nutrient liquid that sustained her when she was unable to eat.
Her smile rarely faded, even though she knew what the end game would be if the transplant didn’t work. There were frequent visitors to the window of her isolation room; hospital staff, doctors, family members, and friends stopped by to wave at her and make her laugh. Kenneth and I were allowed to enter the room after a strict and lengthy scrub-in protocol, but we couldn’t touch her. My heart broke every time I saw our daughter facing her perilous journey virtually alone.
After months of unrelenting worry and fear, the nightmare ended. On March 10, we held our daughter again and, a week later, we took Karen home to resume her life and enrich ours.
I’m grateful every day for the remarkable work the doctors and medical staff at Sick Kids Hospital did on Karen’s behalf. I’m especially thankful they now use the latest technology and skills to see that, far into the future, many more families will witness their own “miracles”.