Aaliyah Sault Ste. Marie, ON

story_large_Aliyah.jpgIn November 2012, four-year-old Aaliyah got sick. At first, doctors in her hometown of Sault Ste. Marie thought she had the flu. But when Aaliyah’s symptoms worsened, she had to be airlifted to the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. Despite being eight months pregnant at the time, Aaliyah’s mom, Alicia, flew by helicopter with her sick daughter; leaving her husband to look after their two other children at home.

By the time Alicia and Aaliyah arrived in Toronto, the four-year-old had lost her vision and was going into kidney failure. Alicia recalls having her worst fears realized as her youngest daughter’s life hung in the balance. An MRI revealed Aaliyah’s brain was enflamed. The diagnosis was encephalitis, a rare and life-threatening neurological condition. Doctors at SickKids responded immediately and started Aaliyah on a treatment plan to make her well.

That plan included regular visits to the Toronto hospital – the first being in four weeks time. It was then that a social worker at SickKids told Alicia about Hope Air.

Hope Air made it possible for Aaliyah to receive her treatment regularly and on time by arranging free air travel with Air Canada and Porter Airlines. A 90 minute flight from Sault Ste. Marie to Toronto translates to over seven hours of driving time. Hope Air has saved the family precious time and money; lessening what would have been a heavy financial burden. Alicia explains, “financially it’s not doable with four kids...it would be very tough."

"We have the best doctors, we have Hope Air... we have everything in place.”

Although Aaliyah was scared at first, the family has pleasant memories of travelling on both airlines and credits accommodating staff who would allow them to switch seats in order to sit closer together.

Today, Aaliyah has made a full recovery. “She’s a typical six-year-old diva”, Mom reports. And with doctors in Toronto continuing to monitor her health, the future looks bright. “We have the best doctors, we have Hope Air... we have everything in place.” As for Aaliyah’s fear of flying, practice makes progress. She’s now made five round trips between Sault Ste. Marie and Toronto. She has a drill now, Alicia says. “It’s just a routine for her...every year she knows that when the snow falls where we live, it’s time for SickKids.”

Throughout the difficulties of dealing with Aaliyah’s illness, Hope Air has been a source of calm. The family also thanks the doctors at SickKids for their patience and expertise. For the parents of a sick child, Alicia says, “fear is number one, but at the same time there’s hope.”