Sometimes through the fog of pain and frustration, a little light seeps in and changes a family for the better.
For Meghan Doerksen, her parents Leanne Arnott , Richard Stanyer and two little sisters Anna and Penny, the light came during a particularly difficult battle with Crohn’s disease. After multiple surgeries, the removal of Meghan’s large intestine, six months in hospital and six blood transfusions, the worst is behind them, medically. Through the process of care and treatment at BC Children’s Hospital, Leanne says she came to recognize how to separate the most important things in life from all that’s wise to let go; the importance of family closeness; and the dogged resilience of her eldest child.
For 11 years, before her diagnosis in the summer of 2015, Meghan was her parents’ “spinning wheel of energy,” a positive, upbeat and energetic girl with a particularly empathic and forgiving nature.
But that summer, the bubbly girl became uncharacteristically quiet. When she stopped eating and complained that her side hurt, Leanne and Richard thought she had pulled a muscle during a dance performance. But continued vomiting and her pallor sent the Surrey family to BC Children’s Hospital, where Meghan was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.
“It was difficult to see our daughter changing from a bouncy, energetic 11-year-old to a very sick child who needed help to get up to use the bathroom. Her pain increased so quickly and her health deteriorated at an alarming rate,” says Leanne.
The ordeal meant the family took up a rotating residence at Children’s for six months, with mom and dad trading places at the hospital and at home, caring for the younger girls. Leanne says it was difficult to watch their child endure pain, but it was also tough to live through months of family separation.
Leanne recalls one day that brought her fears to the forefront. It was July 24, 2015, and Richard was with Meghan in the hospital, when Meghan took a turn for the worse. Eventually, Meghan received the four blood transfusions that saved her life. But the family’s fears mounted with complex surgeries, including one in which Meghan had her large intestine removed.
“When the doctors are doing everything they can and your child is still not getting better, and in fact, she’s getting worse, you get scared,” Leanne says. “Everyone was trying to do everything that was possible to make our daughter get better. When you think the treatments are starting to work you cautiously celebrate and when they fail you are heartbroken all over again.”
The family was finally able to leave the hospital last Christmas, and Meghan returns to BC Children’s for regular checkups. During this long process, the family found spots of solace, thanks to Meghan’s medical team and the caregivers in BC Children’s Child Life Department.
“Fizzie the Clown and the volunteers from Child Life were able to get Meghan smiling and laughing,” recalls Leanne. “They play a really critical role when your child is in hospital long-term. The volunteers who set up and offer tea to parents on family night became an extension of our family and they made Meghan's journey much easier to get through.”
The experience has given the family a chance to reflect on what’s most important, she adds. Now more than ever, they’re shrugging off the “little things” in life, focusing on being together and maintaining good health.
“Living with a chronic disease is scary, unpredictable and both physically and mentally exhausting, but we just take it day by day and shrug off the things in life that just aren't worth getting upset over.”
This new attitude helps Meghan, her parents and sisters look to the future, and helps other families who find themselves in similar plights.
“We hope that Meghan finds strength in what she has had to go through, and hope that Meghan will grow up with to be proud of herself and advocate for other kids that develop Crohn's and become patients of BC Children’s,” says Leanne.