The night of November 4, 2015 is one William Heine won’t soon forget.
Dressed in a lavender jersey, the 15-year-old cancer survivor stood between two of his biggest idols, Henrik Sedin and Sidney Crosby, for the official kick-off of the first game of the season between the Vancouver Canucks and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Like most boys his age, Will loves hockey. Being chosen for the opening puck drop was certainly a highlight of this young man’s life, but the road leading up to that moment has been a difficult one.
Will has always been a happy, active kid who spent most of his time outdoors. His parents considered him an exceptionally healthy teenager —until one day last spring, when he became nauseous and had little to no energy.
At first, Will’s parents thought he might have contracted mononucleosis. When doctors told them he had acute myeloid leukemia, they say their whole world shattered. He was immediately transferred to the oncology wing of the BC Children’s Hospital, where he began chemotherapy a few short days later.
The treatment was aggressive. Will was quickly transferred to the intensive care unit where doctors placed him on dialysis to avoid the risk of cardiac arrest.
“We had only found out that he had cancer a few days before,” recalls Will’s mother, Donna.
“We were prepared to fight, and we all knew that Will could beat it, yet here he was in the ICU. He was sedated, intubated and on dialysis. Modern medicine was keeping our son alive when only last week he had been outside playing.”
After six days, Will was transferred to the oncology ward where he continued his chemo treatment. A nerve had been damaged in his leg during the dialysis, and it had affected Will’s ability to walk. Unable to move around because of the pain, he spent most of the next couple of months in his room under protective isolation.
“Home was not home without Will,” says Donna. “When I was home, I just wanted to go back to the hospital and be with Will. We were hardly ever together as a family.”
Will was able to go home for a short time in July, but his third and fourth rounds of chemo resulted in even more complications, including a blood infection and septic shock. He was once again admitted to the ICU where he spent the following three days.
“Will has very little recollection of the two weeks following his stay in ICU. He continued to fight infections and inflammations while trying to regain his strength,” says Donna.
Will lost 45 pounds, or 25 per cent of his body mass, during his five month stay at the hospital. He is now in remission, but will continue treatment as an outpatient for many years. Donna says he was actually sad to leave the hospital because he was going to miss the nurses so much.
“They are more than just health care professionals; they are your friends,” says Donna. “When Will is healthy he is the happiest, loving and caring person that you could meet. Children's Hospital has given him back the gift of life and we will all treasure this gift.”
Will's friends and family came together in 2015 and created Team Willpower in support of oncology research through the run. Team Willpower was the top community fundraising team at the 2016 RBC Run for the Kids, raising more than $26,000.
We're thrilled Will is our 2017 Race for the Kids Champion. Mark your calendars for June 4, 2017 and register to join the fun run today.