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A letter from Stacey Wilkerson, Eliza’s mom

When someone you love needs serious, urgent care, you have so many emotions and you want help to be close — especially when they’re vulnerable and scared, especially when they’re a child. Seven years ago, my husband Wes and I welcomed our second child to the world. Eliza brought so much joy to us. But as she grew up, we knew that Eliza’s journey would be different.

Eliza has a unique, undiagnosed auto-immune disease. She receives nightly injections that knock down her immune system because it’s in overdrive. If something sets it off, it triggers rashes, joint pain, fevers, and hyper-inflammation that seriously compromises her body, including her lungs. Until she was six, she spent a third of her life at Victoria General Hospital’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU).

Our longest stay in the PICU was 78 nights. Eliza had a severe reaction to an antibiotic that caused her small blood vessels to constrict. Her whole body went black, including her limbs. We didn’t think she was going to make it. She lost the tips of her toes. It was a miracle she didn’t lose an arm or leg, or the toxicity reach her brain. I watched ten caregivers put everything they could into this little girl to keep her alive. Wes and I were awed by the dedication and love they put into her care. “If this were to happen to you or me,” one of the doctors said, “we wouldn’t survive.” She was two years old.

From the beginning, when you have a child who is sick, the doctors, nurses and staff make it their mission to understand them and to listen to you. Every visit, Eliza’s entire room is decorated, her favourite toys waiting. They join in her imaginary world, become lions, wear paper crowns, and follow her clues.

Drs. Amanda Barclay, Allon Beck and Jeff Bishop saw us through dark times. It’s a scary world when your child is severely sick. They make sure you understand what’s happening. The care is better than we experience elsewhere because it comes with so much heart. After all she’s been through, when Eliza sees Victoria General Hospital, she claps her hands in excitement. It’s special when caregivers who look after your child also love her, and she loves them right back.

Eliza is seven now. Wes and I didn’t know she would ever make this birthday. I’ve lost count how many surgeries and procedures she’s had. It’s now been eight months since we had a stay in the PICU.

The Victoria General Hospital PICU doesn’t get the credit it deserves. They work so hard. Right now, they need your help to fund new patient monitors, just like the ones that have helped Eliza over the years. It’s the equipment we associate most with her care and survival because it showed us how strong she was when fighting for her life.

Once, I overheard Dr. Bishop brief an anesthesiologist. “The thing about Eliza,” he said. “She is the strongest person you’ll ever meet.” He didn’t know we could hear him.

There is nothing I can possibly do or say to thank the PICU enough. But sharing Eliza’s story for the You Are Vital: Pediatrics campaign is a start. Before VGH became our second home, I didn’t fully understand why hospital foundations exist. But now, I really get it.

Donors are angels. They equip our hospitals, they equip our PICU to care for and save the precious lives of our children. I am grateful our community can help kids like Eliza.

Please consider supporting our Pediatrics teams and our Vancouver Island kids. It means so much to receive such exemplary care, right here at home.

Stacey Wilkerson