By Andrea Rose
Special to the Record
If you were to meet 11-year-old Nikko Segriff you’d immediately see a bright, sparkly-eyed boy with the most infectious mile-wide smile. Nikko loves reading, sports, and playing practical jokes on his parents, and while he always finds a reason to be happy, life hasn’t always been and isn’t always, easy.
Nikko’s life in Canada was off to a rocky start before his second birthday. Kathy and Lino adopted Nikko from an orphanage in southern Vietnam. Prior to arriving the couple was made aware that he had a pre-existing condition which meant he had a tracheostomy in place to assist with breathing.
As far as they understood Nikko would be able to have his trach removed in Canada, and was otherwise 100 per cent healthy, ready to travel to his new home in the Comox Valley.
After a number of months in Vietnam, Kathy and Nikko boarded their flight to Canada, accompanied by a friend who was providing them with extra support for the journey home. During the flight, though, Nikko took a turn for the worse.
“Nikko’s lungs were filled to the rim with infection and with the cabin pressure, he couldn’t breathe, and all of sudden, all this infection was coming out of his trach,” explains Kathy.
“We had to do a blow-by with the oxygen for seven hours to keep him alive,” Kathy recounts, acknowledging what a miracle it was that he made it to the emergency landing where the paramedics met them on board the plane.
Nikko was eventually flown to Victoria General Hospital where he would stay for the next 12 weeks with his mom and older brother, Kalin, by his side.
“It turned out he had a millimetre of airway in his trachea, so the trach was not coming out anytime soon,” says Kathy, who was finding it more and more difficult to cope with the reality that was unfolding around her.
Kathy knew about the support available back home from YANA, but she was finding herself reluctant to reach out for help. The trips and costs began to add up, and so did the stress and challenges of the long and lonely journey. After a number of emails and offers for help from someone at YANA that knew Kathy and her situation, Kathy finally found the courage to reach out for support.
“Of course I knew about YANA, but it was really slow for me to connect the dots that I needed YANA. I kept thinking that it was something that I should leave for other people,” explains Kathy.
“I was the person who would go to fundraisers, I was the person that was donating…I did all that as a single person, and then all of a sudden I was a mother.”
It was during Kathy’s first visit to the YANA office that she felt she could finally unravel and admit just how hard it had become being a mother who was caring for a sick child.
“It was the first I’d sort of said… ‘I’m scared.’ It was the first time I said, ‘this is really hard,’ things that you can’t share with medical staff because they’re just trying to do the medical things, and you can’t share it with sometimes anyone else, because other people that you’re around have sick kids too.”
There was a sense of relief and belonging for the family after embracing the support and community that came along with no-strings-attached assistance for travel and accommodations. YANA provided the family with daily funding each time they were away, as well as covering the costs of Jeneece Place and the various hotels they stayed at over the years.
“It very quickly became obvious, as cliché as the title is, that I wasn’t alone anymore. It wasn’t the money part of it.”
Kathy shares that while they may have been able to find an alternative to offset the costs of the regular trips to Victoria without YANA’s support, any option available would have put a huge additional strain on everyone.
“At some point I think I just decided that when I could start being able to help again, that I would, and that kind of released me about the guilt I was feeling from accepting financial support,” explains Kathy.
“When I contact YANA and I have another appointment, there’s someone who knows this is my fifth appointment in one month…somebody knows the little markers of your bigger journey.”
Nikko’s journey and challenges continue even with the major strides he’s made with his health over the years. Nikko has chronic lung deficiency as well as permanent scarring from the trach and the infection in his lungs, limiting his lung capacity and requiring him to pace himself during physical activity. After 14 or 15 surgeries to his trachea and lungs, Nikko now has 100 per cent airway and can eat and drink, and he’s getting stronger every day.
“He’s a happy kid. He’s never looking for anything to make him unhappy. He sort of sees the humour in everything, and he’s always been easy to be a mom to,” Kathy says about her son, who lights up their home with laughter and jokes every day, and is finally able to participate in gym class at school and extracurricular activities like volleyball.
“He’s so athletic,” Kathy boasts, amazed at just how far he’s come.
Nikko’s older brother Kalin, who was adopted from the opposite side of Vietnam before Nikko, has been a huge supporter for his brother through the journey and all of his surgeries and challenges along the way. The family continues to feel the love from their community from the overwhelming gift of support after nearly eight years and 40 trips they made, and continue making since connecting with YANA.
Nikko’s family was lovingly supported through countless procedures, surgeries, and routine appointments in Victoria. Because of this special, generous community, YANA was able to assure them that through their most difficult days and fearful moments, no matter how many appointments, trips, or years that go by, they would be by their side, letting them know, “You Are Not Alone.”
YANA (You Are Not Alone) is a community organization offering help to Comox Valley families who need to travel for medical treatment for a child or for a pregnant mother.
For more information, visit https://www.yanacomoxvalley.com