To mark the publication of SickKids: A History of The Hospital for Sick Children, which chronicles the hospital’s extraordinary growth within the broader changes affecting Canadian society and medical practice over the last century, a Toronto family shares their SickKids connection over three generations. Diane (Grandma), Meghan (Mom) and Henry (Meghan’s one-year-old son) thank SickKids for saving their lives — all three were born with similar intestinal conditions that required immediate surgery after birth.
Diane and Meghan share their SickKids perspectives.
I don’t remember my time as a SickKids patient since I was an infant, but I vividly remember being there as a mom. I was told by the doctors that my newborn baby, Meghan, needed surgery to live. The same emotions I felt that day rushed back to me 30 years later when Meghan called to tell me the same thing about my newest grandson, Henry. Our family is so grateful for the care and support we have received from SickKids spanning multiple generations.
I underwent intestinal surgery in 1954. My mother told me that SickKids charged them very little for my care – about $2 per day for the six weeks I was there. I had a smooth recovery, and left the hospital with a scar the length of my abdomen that has grown throughout my life. I came back for yearly visits with my surgeon until I was 12 years old.
SickKids told my parents that perhaps one day our family could give back to the hospital. Little did we know that SickKids would also save the lives of my daughter and grandson.
When Meghan was born, she looked like a healthy baby girl. While still at the hospital, however, the doctors observed signs and symptoms of intestinal issues. Once the blockage was confirmed, she underwent surgery for duodenuma artresia, which was similar to my condition. Her appendix was also removed as a precautionary measure.
Meghan was left with a scar half the size of mine and discharged after only two weeks. She had a good recovery. In fact, I had brought milk to store in the freezer on her ward at SickKids and she drank it all in the first week. Of course, it was difficult to schedule visits as I needed a sitter for my two older children, ages two and four.
It broke my heart seeing needles put in Meghan’s head, so I would try to comfort her by holding her little hand. I remember Meghan was attached to many tubes; the first time I bathed her was quite the experience. She came home with me with one little tuft of her hair, and I allowed it to remain until all of it grew back in. We came back to SickKids for her yearly check-ups only for the first two years of her life.
In 1985, I came home from SickKids for the second time. First as a newborn and now as a mother. Again, not knowing I would be back. I had déjà vu when Meghan told us Henry was diagnosed with intestinal issues. It felt like I was living the same experience from 30 years ago with Meghan, but I knew Henry would be fine. I was confident that both my daughter and my grandson were in good hands at SickKids.
It was in June 2015 that my son, Henry, was transferred to SickKids within hours after birth. He had been born a month early, but did not show any immediate signs of intestinal issues like upper abdominal swelling. After running a few tests they told us to he would be sent to SickKids. He was then diagnosed with duodenum atresia, a similar intestinal condition as my own and my mother’s.
Henry had surgery at two days old. Two days after Henry’s surgery, I was hopeful his breathing tube would be removed so that we could hold him. Initially, we were told it was impossible; but only a few hours later, a nurse saw my disparity and carefully moved some lines so that I could have a cuddle. That moment will always stand out to me. It was the day I finally held my four-day-old baby after watching him in the incubator and yearning to feel his skin against mine. I truly realized the care at SickKids is not only for the sick babies, but also for the families.
We were supposed to spend the next two weeks in the hospital but Henry was thriving. Being a preemie, only five and a half pounds, he made huge progress. Within five days of his surgery he was taking breast milk from the bottle. I remember the day they let me feed him and it felt so amazing to finally have him feed again. That was the same day my grandma died. I remember getting the phone call while in the NICU and just breaking. It was like the nurses knew what we needed – that skin to skin. On the morning of my grandmother’s funeral, the surgeon told us we could go home. Henry came with us and he brought such joy to a somber day.
Every day, I trace the small horseshoe-shaped scar around my son’s belly button. It’s a tiny reminder of Henry’s minimally-invasive surgery. By contrast, my noticeable scar spans across my whole mid-section. My husband and I often refer to it as the “shark bite.” The differences in our two scars show how science has progressed over the years.
At the time of Henry’s surgery, I believe we were told SickKids had performed 32 duodenum artresia surgeries over the course of that year. That number felt reassuring for us, illustrating that SickKids staff has the knowledge and experience when your baby is in the operating suite at two days old.
Battling a life-threatening condition is tough at birth. We’ve had three family members from three generations who needed life-saving treatments at SickKids when we were just newborns. You never expect your kids to be very sick. But when that happens, you almost don’t even think twice when walking into SickKids. It’s a world-renowned hospital right here in Toronto. It’s a place where we feel safe, because all of the staff provide the best care and comfort to patients and their families.