Karen’s Story

It was a stressful time for us for several reasons, but everyone at KGH made us feel safe during the pandemic, and fully taken care of.

My husband and I were so lucky to have been gifted with our son Derek 3 years ago, but our introduction to parenthood was not typical as our son was born with three separate birth defects.

At my 20-week ultrasound, we learned our baby had a bilateral cleft lip, so two splits between his upper lip and nostrils. 1 in 700 children are born with a cleft lip and/or palate so it’s common, but they can be accompanied by several complications. I am a big planner, so it was extremely nerve wracking to not know what challenges lie ahead for us or my baby.

Derek was born at KGH in May of 2020 during the height of the pandemic. My husband and I were so fortunate to be able to stay in the same room as our new baby at KGH, and even more lucky that all the additional testing he needed was available here. Fortunately, KGH is set up for Cleft babies and they have a great NICU. It eased my mind knowing a great NICU was nearby, even though we didn’t end up needing it.

Our boy was born slightly underweight, but due to feeding issues, he started losing a concerning amount of weight. The hospital team was so helpful in providing everything we needed to get him on formula, which I hadn’t planned for, and he quickly started gaining.

In addition to the bilateral cleft lip, he also had a little dimple near the base of his spine. He had to go for additional ultrasounds at KGH to ensure the dimple that formed where his spine fuses wasn’t leaking spinal fluid. We were so relieved when we learned it was closed and that we could check this off our list of concerns, but the ultrasound also revealed two holes in his little heart.

It was a stressful time for us for several reasons, but everyone at KGH made us feel safe during the pandemic, and fully taken care of. Whatever questions or concerns we had; they were always there to support us. The nurses and doctors were all phenomenal.

After 5 days we were able to leave the hospital, but Derek still had numerous ongoing appointments as we weren’t out of the woods just yet. Cleft lips can be associated with complications surrounding feeding, breathing, and issues with the ears, nose, and teeth so we saw multiple specialists.

From cardio ultrasounds for his heart, and appointments with pediatricians, speech pathologists, and a full cleft team, it was a lot at the beginning. I had two appointment calls each day during the first month, but we felt so supported and had most of this available to us through our incredible Kelowna team.

Luckily, he was such an easygoing baby, but it was a difficult time. I was in survivor mode, waking up every two hours to pump as I was determined to make the switch and keep him on breast milk. He went for cleft lip surgery when he was 4 months old and I’m proud to say our little rockstar recovered quickly.

When Derek was 8 months old, he started full-time daycare at the Y as I landed a manager position. He had to wear nose stents from 2 weeks to 1 year old, and the Y staff did a great job ensuring they stayed on and that the other kids wouldn’t remove them. They also helped with the daily lip massages he needed to help with his scarring. This added level of care really aided in his physical recovery.

I truly believe being in full-time care has improved his cognitive development as well. Cleft cases can come with speech difficulties, but Derek's educators report he has been able to pronounce and speak well beyond his years. His vocabulary is great and I credit this to the education he receives at his centre.

The educators that look after Derek are incredible, they also help foster and encourage his interests. He absolutely loves golf and they often create golf games for him to play.

Today, we are so fortunate to say that Derek is absolutely thriving! A large part of this is because of the help we received at the hospital close to home and the development he has made in YMCA child care. We recently learned the holes in his heart have closed on their own, his spine is healthy, and his cleft lip surgery went great. He will still require at least one more surgery for his lip when he’s older, but we are officially out of the woods.

It’s hard to imagine how different things would have been if we hadn’t had Derek at KGH, or if he hadn’t accessed such beneficial early learning resources in Y child care. Although he may be overly energetic now, we are so proud to see his athletic, and clever personality flourish, and look forward to him becoming a big brother this fall!

Many success stories like Dereks are made possible through the help of the Kelowna General Hospital Foundation and the YMCA of Southern Interior BC. The Lake Life Lottery is the only local dream home lottery to benefit mental, physical and social wellness in our communities. Funds raised through the lottery will support the YMCA and KGH Foundation.