Kalena Prince George, BC
Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease. It causes irritation, inflammation, and painful ulcers in the lining of the large intestine. There is no cure for this illness. Symptoms occur, off and on, throughout the life of the sufferer. Kalena, who lives in Prince George, B.C. received a diagnosis of ulcerative colitis on June 9th
, 2011. It was her seventh birthday.
Ulcerative colitis is rarely diagnosed in someone so young. Six months earlier, Kalena began to have unusual fevers for no apparent reason. She was in pain and began having bloody stool, and she was showing up regularly at the Prince George emergency room. Kalena, just six years old at that time, needed specialized tests, an endoscopy and a colonoscopy. Neither of those procedures was available for children, in Prince George. They would have to travel to Vancouver. "It’s a 12-hour drive,” recalls Kathy, Kalena's mother, “Our car wasn’t new, and I was working full time and worried about missing work.”
It was during that first trip to BC Children's Hospital that Kalena underwent the tests that gave her a definitive diagnosis. After so much uncertainty, it was almost a relief for Kathy and Kalena to have a name for her illness, and to begin treatment. Unfortunately, the path ahead was not so straightforward. Kalena began taking the medication prescribed, but the drug did not help her. A new medication was tried but the result was the same. Seeking answers and help, Kathy took her daughter to a naturopath who explored her food sensitivities. The slow process of withdrawing and re-introducing foods was undertaken. A meeting with a gastroenterologist was held. Various experts disagreed with one another. Meanwhile, Kalena’s symptoms became so severe that she required a blood transfusion.
Eventually, Kathy and Kalena made the long drive back to Vancouver for more tests. At B.C Children’s Hospital the team gave them two harsh options: “Either Kalena was going to receive Remicade infusions, or, she would need to have her intestines cut out and wear a stoma bag.”
Side effects of the Remicade infusions could be severe. But surgery, especially in such a young child, seemed even more extreme, and it was something both mother and daughter wanted to avoid. How would the surgery affect the personality of this fun-loving, ever-smiling little girl? How would it impact Kalema’s enjoyment of sports, especially swimming? Maybe, this time, the prescribed drug would work? They made their decision.
As the infusions were started, Kathy pondered the fact that this treatment meant returning to the hospital every eight weeks. The trip through mountainous terrain would be considered scenic in ideal circumstances, but during the winter months it could be a treacherous mix of stormy weather with poor visibility and icy roads where moose and deer roamed. The twelve-hour drive would stretch even longer. It was at this juncture that the hospital staff told Kathy about Hope Air.
We just couldn’t have done it without Hope Air.
“When I called Hope Air,” Kathy said, “it was a good experience. The staff was easy to connect with and our flight was booked. That was in 2012 and we have been flying with Hope Air ever since.” Before that first trip Kalena had never even been on a plane. Since then, she and her mother have made 75 trips with Hope Air.
Kalena is now a teenager. She is currently in remission and feeling good. She is a volleyball player with the local league, and a swimmer working on getting her lifeguard certification. Kalena wants to go into medicine and looks forward to life guarding in the summer to start saving for tuition. Kathy says “our experiences with Hope Air have always been amazing. We just couldn’t have done it without Hope Air.”
At present all Kalena’s activities are curtailed due the COVID-19 pandemic but she must still make the trip to B.C Children’s Hospital for her Remicade infusion. “WestJet took really good care of us.” says Kalena, “We had our own masks and gloves and WestJet provided hand sanitizer and respected social distancing measures – there were very few people on the flight.”