It’s been a year since Eliza was last hospitalized and although she can’t walk, that doesn’t slow her down or keep her from playing outside with her family. (Provided by Stacey Wilkerson)

It’s been a year since Eliza was last hospitalized and although she can’t walk, that doesn’t slow her down or keep her from playing outside with her family. (Provided by Stacey Wilkerson)

When the hospital becomes home: B.C. girl, 7, has spent a third of her life in pediatric unit

Mother grateful for the care her daughter received at VGH Pediatric Intensive Care Unit

For a child — who up spent a third of her first six years in hospital — to start bouncing up and down in the backseat while pulling up to the hospital says something about the home away from home that was created for her.

Eliza May is brown-haired seven-year-old with a big smile and a passion for life. When she was just 11 months old, Eliza got a cold that spiraled into something far worse. Her parents, Stacey Wilkerson and Wes Oborne, thought she had the measles at first after a red rash took over her little body.

Wilkerson recalls spending weeks in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at Victoria General Hospital while Eliza experienced constant fever and pain. Eliza has an undiagnosed auto-immune disease that causes her immune system to go into overdrive and attack her own body’s systems such as her lungs, bowels, bone marrow and kidneys.

In an open letter to the Victoria Hospital Foundation, Wilkerson describes the families longest stay in the PICU — 78 nights.

RELATED: Wingfest raises $14,000 for Victoria Hospital Foundation

Eliza had a severe reaction to antibiotics, causing her small blood vessels to constrict resulting in her whole body turning black, including her limbs. Losing the tips of her toes, it was a miracle she didn’t lose a limb or that the toxicity didn’t reach her brain.

Watching as 10 caregivers ‘put everything they could into this little girl,’ Wilkerson and Oborne were in awe.

“If this were to happen to you or me,” one of the doctors said, “we wouldn’t survive.” Eliza was two years old, writes Wilkerson.

Up until she was six years old, Eliza spent a third of her life in the hospital recieving life-saving treatment for an undiagnosed auto-immune disease. (Victoria Hospital Foundation)

Dr. Jeffrey Bishop, one of Eliza’s many doctors at the PICU, says kids truly are stronger than adults. “We often see children recover from illness that would lead to death in adult patients,” Bishop writes in an email to Black Press Media.

Bishop works with an interdisciplinary team of professional caregivers including nurses, pharmacists, respiratory therapists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and social workers to care for some of the sickest children in the province, like Eliza. He says there have been times when she was easily the “sickest child in the country.”

What’s amazing is the life-saving treatment that Eliza received was provided for her right here on the Island. The PICU at Victoria General Hospital can treat 98 per cent of children needing care thanks to multiple surgeons and medical physicians with pediatric sub-specialty training based in Victoria.

“When your child is sick your life kind of falls apart anyway, but you still have to maintain a life outside of the hospital,” says Wilkerson, something that she believes would have been vastly more difficult if Eliza had been treated anywhere else.

Watching the PICU team do all they could to keep Eliza alive on more than 15 occasions, Wilkerson feels a sense of family when she walks through the hospital doors. She says they’ve cared for her just as much as they’ve cared for her daughter, recalling the first time Eliza was admitted and the terror she felt.

“They welcomed her in and then they offered to make me some toast … That’s the challenge of pediatrics, they’re not just taking care of the kids, they’re taking care of the parents,” she says.

There have been numerous times when Eliza’s family believed she wouldn’t make it through the night. On one of those occasions family members from all over Canada flew in to say their goodbyes.

RELATED: New campaign launched for life-saving pediatric monitors at Victoria General

It was an emotional time for Wilkerson, and as she went into Eliza’s area in the PICU she noticed a new quilt that somebody had made and donated was placed on her bed.

“[The nurse said] that’s Eliza’s new quilt and she’s going to take it home with her when she goes,” says Wilkerson. “They helped us believe she would make it through.”

Bishop says it would be difficult to not feel sadness, anger, frustration or helplessness when working with children who are critically ill or dying, but he believes the most challenging non-patient role in the PICU is that of the parent.

“When we do our job of treating pain and anxiety well, our patients often have minimal recollection of their time in the PICU,” he write. “Most parents, however, will likely never forget their stay.”

It’s been a year since Eliza was last hospitalized and her parents have started to think about the future in years instead of months or just weeks. Wilkerson says she would love to see Eliza grow up to work in a hospital someday and give back to the community that took her in.

“You never wish to be in this situation,” says Wilkerson. “But the community and the friends that we’ve made within the hospital is something we would have never experienced otherwise.”

Currently the Victoria Hospital Foundation is aiming to raise $1.8 million for 40 new monitors for the PICU and the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) through their campaign You Are Vital Pediatrics. The monitors provide caregivers — and parents — with vital information that aids in making life-saving decisions.

“We learn to read those pretty well for people with no medical training,” she says. “We could watch second by second how hard [Eliza] was fighting.”

Contributions can be made by donating online at victoriahf.ca/vitalkids, calling 250-519-1750 or mailing to Wilson Block, 1952 Bay St., Victoria, B.C., V8R 1J8.



kendra.crighton@blackpress.ca

Follow us on Instagram
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The landing page of the new redesign of ladysmith.ca. (Town of Ladysmith photo)
Town of Ladysmith touts redesigned website

The mobile-friendly website will improve online service delivery for site users

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: Vancouver Island in a January spike while B.C. cases decrease

Island’s top doc Dr. Stanwick breaks down the Island’s rising numbers

A downed power line has sparked a brush fire along Yellow Point Road south of Nanaimo. (Cole Schisler/Black Press)
Downed hydro line sparks brush fire in Yellow Point

North Oyster firefighters and B.C. Hydro on scene along Yellow Point Road

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Employers might be able to require COVID-19 vaccination from employees: B.C. lawyer

‘An employer must make the case’ using expert science, explains lawyer David Mardiros

(Twitter/Ateachersaurus)
The Pachena Bay shoreline in 2013. (Twitter/Ateachersaurus)
This week in history: 9.0 magnitude quake struck under what is now called Vancouver Island

According to First Nations elders, the 9.0-magnitude quake in 1700 CE kick-started a tsunami

SAR crews worked late into the night Tuesday to rescue an injured snowboarder in North Vancouver. (Facebook/North Shore Rescue)
Complicated, dangerous rescue saves man in avalanche near Cypress Mountain

North Shore SAR team braves considerable conditions to reach injured snowboarder

A Cessna 170 airplane similar to the one pictured above is reported to be missing off the waters between Victoria and Washington State. Twitter photo/USCG
UPDATE: No sign of small plane that went down in waters south of Vancouver Island

Searchers out on both sides of border between Victoria and Port Angeles

A tip from the public helped Victoria police located and arrest wanted men Jonathon Muzychka and Dean Reber. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
Tips lead police to arrest convicted killer, robber near downtown Victoria

Two men were at large after failing to return to community facility

The Pacific Rim Whale Festival is breaching for a COVID-safe return in March. (Poster photo by Owen Crosby)
Pacific Rim Whale Festival aims for virtual return in March

Educational celebration scheduled to arrive in Tofino-Ucluelet on March 15.

In this undated image made from a video taken by the Duke of Sussex and posted on @SaveChildrenUK by the Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, shows the Duchess of Sussex reading the book “Duck! Rabbit!” to their son Archie who celebrates his first birthday on Wednesday May 6, 2020. The Canadian Paediatric Society is reminding families that the process of raising a reader starts from birth. (Duke of Sussex/@SaveChildrenUK)
Canadian Paediatric Society says raising a reader starts from birth

CPS says literacy is one of the strongest predictors of lifelong health outcomes

Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough responds to a question during a news conference Thursday August 20, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Easing rules for parental benefits created inequities among parents, documents say

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough’s office says the government will make any necessary changes

People walk along a pedestrianized zone of Sainte-Catherine street in Montreal, Monday, May 18, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. Newly released statistics point to a major drop in police-recorded crime during the first eight months of the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Crime down in first 8 months of pandemic, but mental health calls rise: StatCan

The agency says violent crimes such as assault dropped significantly

Cash and drugs allegedly found in a suspect’s possession following an arrest earlier this month in downtown Nanaimo. (Photo submitted)
Accused drug dealer arrested in Nanaimo carrying $20K, fentanyl, crack and meth

Terrance Virus, 39, being held in custody, scheduled to appear in court Feb. 1

Most Read