The story of Paige Purcell is one of dogged persistence, parental instinct, courage and grit.
Paige was born five years ago in Nelson, a quaint town nestled in BC’s picturesque Kootenay region. After an uneventful birth by C-section, Paige’s early childhood was marked by vitality and activity.
To the delight of her athletic parents Dan and Andrea, Paige took to the local mountains with ease. By the time she hit 26 months, she was whizzing down the ski hills with the best of them.
At that time, the Purcells had no idea what was to come – and how Paige’s near-fatal illness would change their lives and transform their little girl into the compassionate, empathetic person she is today.
Paige was such a vivacious toddler that any sign of illness was a brutal interruption. So when Andrea Purcell noticed that Paige was vomiting at unexpected moments, she worried. Paige would give no sign she was about to be sick and her purging didn’t coincide with flu symptoms. After a number of weeks, the Purcells found their little girl was throwing up several times a day.
“I was carrying around a dog’s collapsible water dish for her to vomit in because I never knew when she was going to vomit. We’d be at the grocery store, and I’d take a look at her and say, ‘Oh, no she’s going to be sick,’” says Andrea.
After many visits to the local doctor, she was left with no answers. “Four times we went to the doctor, and it was always ‘oh, it’s minor…’” she recalls. But Andrea felt it in her gut: it wasn’t normal.
The Purcells pushed to see a senior doctor, a locum from Victoria. When Andrea described Paige’s symptoms, he was straightforward. “He told me, ‘I don’t like what you’re telling me, and I would like to be proven wrong.’”
That pediatrician ordered a CT scan for Paige, which showed the presence of a tumour. The family was airlifted to BC Children’s Hospital immediately.
Within a few hours of Paige’s arrival in Vancouver the Purcells heard it: Paige had a massive brain tumour. It was pilocytic astrocytoma, a tumour most often found in the brain stem.
“She had a golf ball growing in her head and it was pushing against her brain stem. Her brain stem was barely functioning. There was no brain fluid flow. I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, my kid has a massive brain tumour.’”
But with the aid of Dr. Paul Steinbok, a pediatric neurosurgeon at BC Children’s who removed what turned out to be a benign tumour, Paige’s recovery was swift. A month and a day after surgery, Paige was on the ski hills with her mom and dad.
Two years (and two successful follow-up MRIs) later, Paige is still healthy. Better still, the ordeal has transformed her into a natural empath, with capabilities for compassion that stretch far beyond her years.
Not long ago, Andrea and Paige have befriended Gabrielle Pinette, a four-year-old Kelowna girl who recently went through a similar experience.
Gabrielle, who had to undergo a stroke in order to survive surgery to remove her brain tumour, is currently rehabilitating at Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children.
In honour of children like Gabrielle, Paige and Andrea have been hard at work to raise funds for BC Children’s Hospital. By collecting recyclables from their Nelson neighbourhood, the mother-and-daughter team raised a total of $3,300 – including more than $300 from Paige’s birthday money – for the Pediatric Neurosurgery team at BC Children’s.
When Paige works hard to raise funds for the hospital, she thinks of Gabrielle and her recovery, says Andrea.
“When I told Paige that the doctors took Gabrielle’s tumour out, she said to me: ‘So all that money I raised helped her get better like me, right?’