Our Children & Families
Every day we are inspired by the bravery of our children and their families. Their stories motivate us to do all we can to improve the lives of children and youth today and for many generations to come. We are proud to be able to share their stories with you.
Read their stories here:
- Cameron Hardman
- Ryley Mitchell
- Hunter and Avery Buwalda
- Araya Taylor
- Zoe Puddy
- The Masters Family
- Jerika Masters
- Josh Masters
- Josiah Masters
- Olivia Romkes
- Ali Barakat
- Ben Brown
- Felix Frechette
- Jeremy Grace
- Rachael Wright
- Tori Kosempel
Cameron’s bright eyes and beautiful smile can light up a room. But, life hasn’t always been easy… As a child living with down syndrome, she has faced many medical challenges including congestive heart failure – requiring two open heart surgeries – countless cases of pneumonia and difficulties with eating and gaining weight. She is also living with severe obsessive compulsive disorder and was diagnosed with autism.
Through it all, her health care team from Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre, and her therapists and clinicians from Thames Valley Children’s Centre (TVCC) have become like an extended family to Cameron. With each challenge she has faced, her family and health care team have been there to provide the care and support that Cameron needed to thrive.
Today Cameron is moving beyond her disability and enjoying activities like riding her specially adapted bike, playing on a soccer team and enjoying music and swimming classes. These and other forms of recreational therapy help Cameron develop her physical abilities and improve her quality of life.
“The staff at TVCC have touched Cameron’s life and are like extended family to her.” - Cameron’s Mom, Kim
When she arrived in 2005, Ryley Mitchell, a healthy baby girl, was the best Father’s Day present her mom, Joanna, could have given her dad, Jeff. However, in August of that year Ryley had severe flu-like symptoms that would not let up. An x-ray at her local hospital in Woodstock revealed that Ryley needed to take an ambulance to Children’s Hospital, London Health Sciences Centre right away.
Within an hour of their arrival at Children’s, the Mitchells had a diagnosis of an enlarged heart. Ryley’s condition was so severe that her cardiology team predicted she may require a heart transplant. On January 11, the Mitchells returned to Children’s for a check-up. Ryley’s breathing was off, her nutrition was suffering and her lungs were filling with fluid. A “wonderful cardiologist” sat the Mitchells down and laid it on the line for them; Ryley would not survive without a heart transplant.
Joanna and Jeff wondered how a heart transplant would affect their daughter's quality of life. They worried if would she be face endless tests and treatments, and whether or not she would be happy. On January 29, 2006 Ryley received her transplant and the Mitchells took the first step toward finding out what their daughter’s life would be like with a new heart.
Ten years later, Ryley’s care team in the Paediatric Medical Day Unit consists of a lot of familiar faces who really care about her heart health progress. She visits Children's Hospital regularly so they can monitor how her heart is functioning and her overall health. Her mom explains,
“Ryley asks a lot of questions about hearts, how they work and why hers was sick. She appreciates the doctors and nurses who take care of her and make sure her heart stays healthy.”
For now, Ryley must cope with the side effects of her immunosuppressant medication and in the future, she may need another heart transplant. Despite these challenges, Ryley is a loving, energetic girl who usually describes her days at school as “super duper awesome” or “the best day ever”. Over the past six years, Ryley has participated in three Canadian Transplant Games where she has won many gold medals. These Olympic-style events for transplant recipients have given Ryley the chance to travel to Quebec City, Calgary and Moncton where she continues to be successful - and is never afraid to try new things!
Joanna shares, “We struggled with the quality of life a transplant would give Ryley, but now I look back and I wonder why did we ever think that way? Ryley is the happiest kid ever. She has changed me and the way I look at life.”
“This is what you have to look forward to. You just can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel yet,” said a mother in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) as she introduced Tamara Buwalda to her beautiful, chubby baby boy at Children’s Hospital, London Health Sciences Centre. Little did Tamara know that after her long and emotional journey with twins, Avery and Hunter, she would become a source of support for NICU parents.
Tamara shares with parents whose infants are struggling, “Our babies wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for the Children’s NICU and the quality of care provided there. I want all parents to have hope and to trust. One day, you’ll look back and say, ‘We made it through.’”
Tamara recalls that her husband’s wedding ring could fit around even the very top of their twins’ thighs. As she watched other families celebrating, she remembers feeling that, “They were so fragile I didn’t even want to touch them – even though I’m their mom.” At first, Tamara and Mike were overwhelmed watching their little ones struggle, but their care team members would not let them “sink”.
“They helped us understand the medical terms. They helped us sleep at night and they helped us breathe. The nurses make you laugh and they make you trust them because they love your babies like they are their own,” Tamara shares.
When the babies first arrived home, the new parents were anxious about the challenges they may face ahead. The babies refluxed slightly, causing some feeding complications. However, Tamara and Mike had a whole team of supporters who they could count on to answer questions and provide advice whenever necessary. Soon, their babies began gaining weight and really thriving at home. As time progressed Tamara shares, “We learned to relax and just trust that the NICU had prepared our babies for success.”
Now, Hunter and Avery are 18 months old, and they are motoring around and actively engaging with their loved ones. Children’s Hospital continues to be involved with their care to ensure that both twins are hitting their developmental milestones. Tamara expresses her sincere gratitude explaining,
“When my husband and I play with them, interact with them and look at them, we know they are going to be OK. We feel beyond lucky."
Araya may find it difficult to pick up small toys and use a spoon, but she works hard with her team at Thames Valley Children’s Centre (TVCC) to reach her full potential. Araya’s mom experienced some difficulty during labour and, at first, Araya struggled to breathe.
“We were devastated; we had no idea what to do. We were quite terrified. But, she was our little baby and all we wanted to do was love her and cuddle her. It wasn’t until we noticed her motor development skills were really delayed that we started to worry,” Araya’s loving mom, Margaret, shares.
It was when their daughter was three months old that Araya’s parents noticed she was just not as coordinated as her peers. When she turned one, Araya was diagnosed with a mild form of Cerebral Palsy. Her health care team wanted to ensure Araya got all of the support she needed, so she was referred to TVCC.
For almost four years, Araya has been travelling to London on a biweekly basis to do physiotherapy. She also sees an occupational therapist to work on daily living skills and participates in tykeTalk to enhance her speech and language development. Araya gets excited for her weekly visits to London to see her friends and therapists at TVCC. She enjoys playing in the gym and making crafts at physiotherapy so much that her family calls her appointments ‘play dates’.
One of Araya’s favourite things has been visiting the Gait Lab to have her walk and stride monitored. Wearing motion detectors, she does her ‘princess stride’ down the runway striking different poses. The Gait Lab is an incredibly innovative space that donors have helped to create. This lab makes it possible to assess how a child walks, enhancing our care practitioners’ ability to provide custom supports so our kids can move as freely as possible.
Araya is quickly growing and developing new skills and interests, so TVCC lets her family borrow toys and specialized equipment from the equipment lending service to help improve her fine motor skills. The equipment loan program, which is supported by Children’s Health Foundation's donors, helps many families like Araya’s to benefit from an incredibly diverse array of custom-made toys, and mobility and communication devices without straining their financial resources. This loan program makes innovative equipment available to families across our region and gives them the time they need to decide whether a particular piece of equipment is something they should incorporate into their children’s daily lives.
Araya’s family loves that even though Araya is working extremely hard to reach her developmental milestones her care team makes it fun and enjoyable for the whole family. “Everyone who has been involved in Araya’s care has been super friendly and Araya just loves them all. We can’t pick a favourite,” Margaret explains. This enjoyment keeps Araya engaged and encouraged, propelling her to achieve “amazing things” over the past three years.
When soon-to-be parents, Paula and Dave, visited the Emergency Room because Paula had a stubborn headache, they never imagined that their little girl was ready to arrive. Zoe Puddy was born three months early via emergency C-section and she was a beautiful, but tiny baby, weighing only 1 lb 4 oz. Her mom explains,
“Zoe’s whole hand, including her fingers, was smaller than the tip of my thumb. It was just incredible how little she was.”
After having surgery to remove part of her intestine, Zoe’s family was told that she had a 50 per cent chance of surviving. With a great deal of love and support, Zoe pulled through, and after three additional procedures she came off of her respirator and was able to breathe by herself for the first time.
In 2011, Zoe was the first baby to be transferred to the new Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Children’s Hospital, London Health Sciences Centre. The newly created space provided an intimate setting for her family to cherish their new baby girl, so when they arrived at Children’s they were thrilled to see that the hospital had taken all of the right steps to provide exceptional care for its tiny new visitors.
When Zoe was born, Dave and Paula had to wait three weeks before they were able to hold her. Paula shares, “One of the greatest things to do with your newborn baby is the kangaroo hold, but at the old hospital there was not always enough chairs available for every parent to do this. In the new NICU every room has a chair, giving you the opportunity to hold your child. The space itself is amazing. There were welcome signs on each of the hospital room doors for the babies and their families, which was very sweet.”
Zoe was released from the hospital after nearly four months. As she began to grow, Zoe was not meeting all of her developmental milestones, so she began to receive therapy at Thames Valley Children’s Centre (TVCC). Her therapists were there to help progress her motor and speech skills. Paula shares, “Zoe always tries to impress her physiotherapist – whenever they would show Zoe a new thing to do she would have it completed in a week.” Zoe continues to rapidly progress and she has completed nearly all of her therapeutic programs at TVCC.
One day, Zoe came home from daycare to tell her parents she was broken, lifting her shirt to reveal her surgery scars. Her mom and dad quickly reminded her that, actually, she was all fixed now – and they couldn’t be happier.
“Zoe is an increasingly independent little girl. We are so lucky to have her in our life. She makes us laugh and smile every single day,” proud mom, Paula, shares.
For Zoe’s first birthday, her family set up a Personal Fundraising Page through Children's Health Foundation to encourage donations to the NICU. Now, three years old, Zoe and her family still visit the NICU twice a year to see the nurses that took such good care of her.
Create your own Personal Fundraising Page in honour of someone special and contribute to enhancing the places where our children and their families heal, flourish and grow together.
Jericka, Josh and Josiah, three members of the Masters’ family, were each diagnosed with Down Syndrome at birth. To overcome challenges and reach their individual goals, the three siblings receive occupational therapy, physiotherapy, and speech and language therapy at Thames Valley Children’s Centre (TVCC). Their mom, Michelle, explains that for her and her husband, Dave, “It is important for our kids to have their own hopes and dreams – that we can support.” TVCC therapists, now honourary Masters’ family members, have helped each of Michelle’s kids to articulate and achieve these unique hopes and dreams.
Helping each child reach their full potential takes team work and a lot of meetings. When February 2012 held 27 appointments for Michelle’s family, she and TVCC knew it was time to bring all of the kids’ therapists together to discuss the big picture of their goals and challenges. Now, Michelle calls these meetings her ‘pro meetings’ because they are pro-family, pro-agency and pro-the kids.
From medically fragile to following her dreams
When Jericka was born, she was deemed medically fragile and required heart surgery. After her surgery, she spent six weeks recovering at Children’s Hospital, London Health Sciences Centre. Over the years, Jericka and her family have become regulars in Children’s Emergency Department. After an eight year hiatus from emergency care, Jericka recently returned to the department and still recognized some of the friendly faces who had cared for her frequently as a youngster. Youth Services at TVCC has also continuously supported Jericka’s development and, most recently, helped 16-year-old Jericka to achieve her dream of transitioning into a public high school.
Overcoming challenges to reach college
TVCC’s Self Discoveries Program encouraged Josh to look beyond his challenges to see everything that he could achieve. Michelle explains that Josh’s therapist, Kim Benincasa, “Opened up the whole world to him. She showed Josh he had the potential to go to college, and then supported our family through the process to get him there.” From helping Josh to keep track of his wallet and keys to teaching him to ride the bus, TVCC gave him the skills to thrive away from home. Today, 21-year-old Josh is busy studying sports and recreation at Lambton College, which he is absolutely thrilled about.
Learning to maximize communication and mobility
When Josiah was three years old, he was also diagnosed with autism. Josiah uses an iPod as a voice out-put device to communicate with others because he has trouble forming words and maintaining eye contact during conversations. More recently, Josiah is learning how to cope with increasing mobility challenges, including muscle spasticity. However, his support system at TVCC is continuing to help Josiah and his parents discover new stretches, programs and technologies that will enabled Josiah to maximize his range of motion and reach his full potential.
What does all of this extra support mean to the Masters? “TVCC means assurance and peace to our family,” Michelle explains. Michelle also shares that TVCC means possibilities and all of the joy that comes with her children achieving new heights;
“TVCC has let my children dream and dream big! Like really big! Things that I didn’t realize or even expect, they continue to do amazing things.”
When she was going through cancer treatment, Olivia wasn’t afraid to ask the tough questions– even when her parents had trouble answering them. When Olivia was diagnosed with leukemia, her mom and dad couldn’t believe it. They were in shock, but they knew Olivia needed life-saving care, so they had to push through their fear and rely on Children’s Hospital, London Health Science Centre to help their daughter.
Olivia’s mom, Carolyn, had been a nurse in Ingersoll for over 20 years, but nothing could prepare her for watching Olivia go through cancer treatment. Carolyn explains that Olivia’s diagnosis meant her worst nightmare had come true, but the care they received at Children’s got them through the unimaginable.
Over two and a half years of treatment, Olivia had 11 admissions. At times, she was admitted for more mild symptoms; however, during more than one admission, her family was not sure if she would make it – or how much more they could take. Luckily, however, the Romkes family was not alone. They found solace in connecting with other oncology families who they shared tough experiences and positive news with. Olivia’s doctors also continuously offered encouragement to the family, letting them know that, although Olivia’s admissions were scary, they meant that the chemo was really working -- and that she could beat this.
No matter what Olivia was going through, Children’s helped her stay strong and keep smiling. When she was missing a family vacation to Algonquin Park, Ollie the therapeutic clown brought the wilderness to her! He created a forest using sticky notes, putting woodland creatures all around her room. Olivia also had Melissa, a child life specialist, who would use a doll to help Olivia better understand what was happening to her body and to show Olivia the medical procedures that her Oncology team would use to help her feel better.
“You make friendships [at Children’s]… It’s your second home.” Olivia’s mom, Carolyn
The opening of the new Children’s Hospital in 2011 was a significant achievement for health care in our region. Olivia was the first patient to be transferred there, and she even got to cut the ceremonial ribbon. Families, like Olivia’s, who receive care at Children’s couldn’t be happier that they now have such an exceptional care facility to call home. To Olivia and her loved ones, Children’s means a safe place. Olivia has been cancer-free for three years, but she will always be “one strong girly” who remains thankful for her Children’s Family.
“I believe that between God and Children’s hospital -- with all the chemo and extra help -- our daughter is here with us. And that is a huge blessing.”
St. Thomas, ON
Born weighing 1 lb, 9 oz. (just a little more than a pound of butter), doctors weren’t sure if the Barakat's precious micro-preemie would make it. But, he did! Now, five years later, Ali is living a complex, but happy life that he and his family are so grateful he has.
At 1 ½ years old, Ali was diagnosed with Dystonic Cerebral Palsy which causes spasms and unwanted movements in the major muscle group that extends from his neck throughout his limbs.
In October 2012, Ali was admitted to Children’s Hospital with serious complications: His body was overworking – it was like he was trying to run a 24-hour marathon without taking any breaks. To try and give his body some much-needed rest, Ali was placed in a medically induced coma.
Ali’s health care team worked tirelessly to protect his quality of life. They determined the best course of action was to implant a Baclofen Pump. The pump releases muscle relaxers into his spinal cord to relax Ali’s rigid muscles and ease the strain on his internal organs.
When completing Ali’s procedure, the Children’s Neurology team collaborated with plastic surgeons at London Health Sciences Centre, making Ali the first child to ever have a Baclofen Pump implanted with a unique approach and placement. The innovative approach enhances healing and decreases the risk of infection and scarring. Thanks to the “phenomenal” success of Ali’s surgery, medical teams continue to use this approach when treating other children.
The Cerebral Palsy Clinics at Thames Valley Children’s Centre help Ali to reach his full potential. Today, he is doing things his family never thought possible -- with a million dollar smile! Ali’s neurology team and therapists have relieved a substantial amount of his pain and enhanced his mobility with specialized equipment, giving Ali more time to focus on the important things in his life – like his baby sister and his favourite toy dinosaur.
“I have a family at Children’s Hospital, from all the nurses and doctors who took on Ali as their own. Children’s has saved my child’s life, my life and our family. I can’t express how thankful I am.” Ali’s mom, Linda
Ben may have been too young to remember the Emergency Department, but he knows that Children’s Hospital saved his life -- more than once. Before the age of three, Ben suffered two severe bowel obstructions. To treat Ben’s extraordinary symptoms, his local hospital in Ingersoll transferred him to Children’s for specialized treatment. His family quickly became familiar with Children’s and learned to trust in the exceptional care provided by our specialists.
When Ben was four years old, he struggled with his third and most serious medical complication. He developed a common skin infection known as Impetigo. However, Ben’s mild irritation took a turn for the worse. His mom, Shannon, watched in horror as her son screamed in pain, unable to move. She attempted to comfort Ben, but everywhere she touched him broke out in blisters. Terrified, she called 911 and an ambulance rushed Ben to Children’s where his health care team was ready to take action. "I just remember an immediate swarm of doctors and nurses. Running so many tests, asking so many questions. I knew it was serious when two doctors from infectious disease came in the room."
Ben was diagnosed with a very rare condition - Scalded Skin Syndrome. Physicians had to treat him like a burn victim, removing his damaged skin and covering his body in dressings. To reward him after enduring a dressing change, Ben’s nurse gave him a bucket of dinosaurs to play with. Shannon recalls that this kind gesture added a sense of hope and humour to her family’s difficult situation. Despite the severity of his symptoms, within just 24 hours Ben started to recover. After seven days at Children's, his family heard the best news ever – Ben could go home!
"Being at Children's, you know you are in the right place. You know you are doing the best for your child because the people there are just so skilled, confident and have the experience. You just know you are going to get the right answers."
Luckily, Ben’s skin has healed completely – he doesn’t have a single scar to remind him of his visits to Children’s. While Shannon will never forget the trauma of witnessing her little boy suffer, she will also never forget the amazing care that saved his life: “Children’s gave us a second chance with Ben.” To show their gratitude, Shannon and her family continuously give back to Children’s. This June, Ben and his brother also got the chance to say “thanks” to their health care family when they participated in “Tee It Up for Children’s".
Felix’s parents were prepared to hear a diagnosis of Autism when they attended an assessment appointment at Thames Valley Children’s Centre (TVCC). What they never expected was how their lives would change drastically, not just because of Autism but because of cancer.
During the assessment, the doctor noticed something unusual about three-year-old Felix’s abdomen and referred him for ultra-sound testing at Children’s Hospital.
In just over a week, Felix was officially diagnosed with both Autism and a large Stage 4 Wilms Tumor. The rare form of kidney cancer had also spread to one of his lungs. He needed surgery quickly to remove the tumour.
“Over the course of a week, a family’s worst nightmare became our reality. Our child was diagnosed with cancer,” says Felix’s mom, Lindsay.
Following the surgery, Felix’s oncology team made a plan to treat his cancer, which included special considerations for his Autism. For Felix to feel safe and secure, a routine was very important. Having the same nurses and “J” bed in the same location each visit made him feel more comfortable during the difficult treatments. Even now that Felix’s cancer is in remission, he is excited to visit the ‘B Doctors’ (which Felix named for the B zone of the hospital) who helped him through his cancer journey.
With cancer treatments behind him, Felix and his family concentrated on learning to live with Autism. The expertise and support from therapists in the Autism program at TVCC have helped the family set goals, and though it’s been hard work, Felix is making great strides.
“Felix is funny and endearing. He is a very happy, energetic and loving boy, and he is always saying something that puts a smile on your face.” says Lindsay. “We are so grateful for the teams at Children’s Hospital and Thames Valley Children’s Centre for everything they have done in our son’s life.”
For Jeremy Grace, life is all about making connections.
He is a natural story-teller with a comedic flair and a tenacious spirit that he uses to meet his day-to-day challenges, head on. Living with Cerebral Palsy doesn’t stop Jeremy from doing what he enjoys most – or trying new things.
Over the past 17 years, Thames Valley Children’s Centre (TVCC) has played an integral role in helping Jeremy accomplish whatever goals he sets for himself. From playing sports, like horseback riding, soccer, skiing and golf, to participating in summer camps to volunteering and being an active member of his school community, Jeremy has done it all.
As he entered his teens, Jeremy became involved with the Ability Connections program at TVCC – a youth group that gets together for various events, and acts in part as an advocacy group. With the skills and confidence he has gained through the program, Jeremy has developed an ability to inspire others to be courageous and to rally change in the world around him. Jeremy’s genuine and heartfelt words have inspired others to look at disability in a different light – including the owner of his favourite diner, who installed a handrail at their entrance after reading one of Jeremy’s speeches.
When you meet Jeremy, you are quickly won over by his natural charm and kindness. It’s easy to see how the connections he makes with others are genuine and lasting.
“Over the years the Centre has become like an extended family to me and others in my family. TVCC helps kids with disabilities in both big and small ways every day. It is not an exaggeration to say that it has changed my life and been critical to my success so far. Without the Centre, I would not have the wealth of opportunities or possibilities that I am so privileged to have.” - Jeremy Grace, TVCC client
Within hours of entering the world, little Rachael was fighting for her life. She was diagnosed with Pulmonary Heart Dysfunction and spent three weeks in critical care in a Toronto hospital before returning home to London. The Cardiology Team at Children’s Hospital, London Health Sciences Centre followed up with Rachael’s family the next day and became her primary hospital for follow up care.
After her successful open heart surgery at 20 months old, Rachael regressed as a toddler. Once she recovered from surgery, Rachael had to learn how to walk and talk all over again with the help of therapists at Thames Valley Children's Centre.
Today, Rachael and her heart are doing great. She even looks forward to her yearly visits at Children’s because there is always a great movie when they are taking pictures of her heart. Familiar faces of her health care team have helped make the whole experience less scary.
Rachael will eventually require another surgery but today, 10-year-old Rachael is enjoying gymnastics and dance.
“Children’s Hospital means a healthy life for my child, it means a safe and close environment that I know our children are being well taken care of.” Rachael's mom, Lisa.
All Tori wanted was to be able to share her smile with the world, but a condition called Moebius Syndrome kept it hidden by paralyzing one side of her face. At five years old, Tori became the youngest patient at Children’s to have a specialized team representing Children’s Hospital and London Health Sciences Centre’s adult care team perform a surgery that would change her life.
It took eight hours for doctors to successfully perform the complex procedure needed to give Tori the ability to smile. After only 10 short weeks of healing, Tori was able to proudly share her joy – with a beaming smile.
Today six year old Tori can’t stop smiling! After school picture day, Tori came home to tell her mom, “I smiled beautiful for you in my picture.” As she grows older, she may require additional surgeries, but her health care team at Children’s will be there with her every step of the way.
“These great doctors deserve to be praised for what they did. They will always be a part of our family,” Tori’s mom, Danielle