Mike Ottawa, ON
Mike Walker and his family have spent the past several years braving illness—in more ways than one.
For two decades, Mike and his wife, Francine, cared for their daughter, Celine, who had a mitochondrial disease. Francine, also having health issues of her own, stayed home with Celine while Mike worked multiple jobs to keep the family going.
“She was a normal everyday kid—talked, joked, watched TV, went to school,” says Mike of his daughter. Unfortunately, as time passed, Celine’s condition worsened. She went from walker to wheelchair to being bedridden. On February 10, 2015, Celine sadly passed away. She was 22.
Soon after, Mike began facing health issues of his own. Three months after Celine’s passing, Mike was dealt yet another blow: he was diagnosed with liver cancer.
“It was like: OK, is anything else going to go wrong?” Mike recalls.
Mike’s doctors in Ottawa weren’t able to locate the second tumour on his liver in order to treat it, so Mike was referred to a specialist at Toronto General Hospital’s Peter Munk Cardiac Centre. In Toronto, specialists not only located Mike’s tumour but found additional ones. To live, he would need a new liver.
Travelling from Ottawa to Toronto for transplant assessments would be expensive and draining. Mike’s appointments were always on weekdays, and because he’s self-employed, travelling so frequently meant a huge financial loss. Fortunately, Mike found out about Hope Air from a resource book at his transplant orientation. He began flying from Ottawa to Toronto with Hope Air – an hour flight that would have otherwise been a four- to five-hour drive each way. Without the help of free flights from Hope Air, Mike says, “I would have been finished.”
Everybody gets a crappy deck of cards. Some cards, there’s nothing you can do to change them. But sometimes they let you shuffle the deck, and here I am.
Mike was so inspired by Hope Air’s services that he decided to give back. He rallied his bandmates at The Gypsy-curse
, recruited a second band, Monsters and Malice
, and put on a rock concert benefitting Hope Air that raised over $8,000 thanks to many generous people in his community. “When I found out Hope Air helps kids, too – I said it was for the kids,” he explains. “I lost my only daughter. I know what it’s like, kids should not be sick. I think of my daughter as my angel on my shoulder.”
But Mike’s most urgent medical trip was yet to come. At 4:45pm on the afternoon of August 23 2017, Mike received a call from his Toronto specialist. They found him a liver and it was on its way.
Planning to make the long trip by car, Mike grabbed his things and a rounded up a kind neighbour who agreed to drive his car back to Ottawa. They had just departed when Mike thought of Hope Air again. He called the office, where a client care representative told him to drive to the airport while they arranged an urgent last-minute flight. By the time Mike had arrived, the flight had been booked. After a rush through security, Mike boarded the plane just in time for takeoff.
He arrived at the hospital and checked the time. It was 6:45pm. “The nurse looked at me and said, you’ve beaten your liver here. It’s coming from out west. It’ll be here tomorrow morning.”
Mike stayed at the hospital overnight, which gave him the opportunity to let his family and friends know what was happening. “I said a few goodbyes,” Mike says. “It’s a major surgery. Anything could happen.”
The specialists performed Mike’s transplant early the next morning. Thankfully, it was a success and six days later he was allowed to return home.
Mike continued to travel back and forth from Ottawa to Toronto for months afterwards for follow-ups, all with the help of Hope Air. To date, Mike has flown 11 trips with Hope Air.
These days, Mike is doing well. He’s played three gigs with his band since the transplant, and they meet once a week for practice. He’s even going for his sixth degree in black belt. Mike is also spreading the word about Hope Air and plans to organize future fundraisers. He’s lived through some dark years, but feels grateful for his second shot at life.
“Everybody gets a crappy deck of cards. Some cards, there’s nothing you can do to change them,” he says. “But sometimes they let you shuffle the deck, and here I am.”