Every mother wants to hear her baby is healthy, but what happens when mom feels like something is wrong? This is what happened to Kim Vander Schelde after she gave birth to her second little girl Olivia. Doctors said she was healthy, but Kim was convinced something wasn't right…
Sent home from the hospital after having their daughter on November 8th, 2004, Kim and her husband Sam couldn't help but be alarmed with Olivia’s constant vomiting and crying—by the time Olivia was 6 weeks old, Kim began to think there was a neurological complication. After making several trips to a local Emergency Room, Olivia completely stopped eating and was admitted into a London Hospital where she stayed for 6 weeks before being released with a feeding tube. However, the vomiting and painful cries continued after the family returned home. By 8 weeks, Olivia’s left arm had lost a majority of its use and Kim’s gut instinct was that doctors needed to take an “inside look”.
At 16 months Olivia was back in the hospital —by this time her mobility issues had increased to the point that Olivia was having troubles walking, and would have to drag her limp leg behind her. These increasing symptoms and Kim’s persistence led doctors to give Olivia a CT Scan. Kim explains
I would burp Olivia and rub her back and I swore to myself her spine was crooked. I knew something was wrong and I was beginning to think I was crazy because no one seemed to know what.
Once the scan results came in, the Vander Schelde’s were informed that their daughter had a mass in her brain which was later diagnosed as a tumor.
Doctors operated a week later. They were able to remove 90% of the tumor in a 14 hour surgery, but Olivia needed to stay at the hospital and recover for the next 7 weeks. Kim explains she didn't know about Ronald McDonald House Southwestern Ontario until the nurses suggested it.
I would just sleep on the little chair in the hospital room, I never wanted to leave my baby. It got to the point that nurses would tell my husband I needed rest or I was going to get sick.
Once Kim came to the House, it made it possible for dad to stay home and care for older sister Holland while Kim stayed close to Olivia in a welcoming, secure environment steps from the hospital.
When the family needed to travel back and forth to Toronto for her weekly chemo treatments and were without their “home away from home” they had to spend over $40,000 on hotels, transportation, hospital parking, food and the other expenses of having a seriously ill child. Sam and Kim ended up selling their house, hosting fundraisers and turning to their community for help. Kim expresses that they couldn't have done it without support,
Our community was amazing. Ballymote Auto and Shut the Front Door Improv helped us get a van large enough for Olivia’s wheelchair, and one day when checking the mailbox I found an envelope with $800 and a note saying ‘I hope this helps’.
These acts of kindness are what kept the family strong.
Today, Olivia is 9 and her initial tumor is gone. There is still a small mass in the Thalamus of her brain but it hasn't caused any medical issues,. Other complications from undergoing chemo at a young age have been manageable so far. Sam has recently been able to start working again, and Kim feels like she will be returning shortly as well, but Olivia still needs help from her family when coping with her condition. Her biggest struggle is neurological pain, often in her toes, but having older sister Holland and younger brother Sammy around helps to keep her busy and take her mind off of the pain. Now living in St. Marys, the family continues to come and stay at our House when Olivia has her appointments, and the kids love being able to use the play rooms and watch a family movie in the theater room. When they are all able to come and stay at the House they will “cheer” with their juice cans to Ronald McDonald House for keeping them together.
Our three programs, RMH London, RMH Windsor and the RM Family Room London were able to provide supportive services to 4,605 families with sick kids.
RMHC-SWO provided 15,834 nights of comfort to families keeping them close to their child’s specialized medical care.
Each night a family stays close at RMH it is estimated they save $244 on accommodations, meals and other home comforts.
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