Special to The Record
Besides the caring people who work there, nobody knows about the Comox Valley Child Development Centre like the families who rely on it.
Parents Jana and Kurt Letain as well as Kelsey Ruttan will testify to that.
The Letains’ son Mason, four, Kelsey’s daughter Talia, almost three, and an older girl identified only as Ella are on this year’s poster to publicize the CVCDC’s 40th annual telethon Nov. 1.
The event at the Sid Williams Theatre is the CVCDC’s biggest fundraiser of the year.
The Letains and Ruttan understand and appreciate the CVCDC like parents with children who develop normally cannot.
“For myself, it’s not something I would have really thought too much about until you have a child, and then it’s all you think about,” Jana comments.
“That’s exactly it,” agrees Kelsey. “We didn’t know how much we would need YANA (local charity You Are Not Alone) until we had to stay away from home.
“The same with the Child Development Centre,” Kelsey adds. “I’d heard of the centre … but I didn’t understand what it was all about until we needed it.”
Jana, Kurt and Kelsey hope Comox Valley residents support the CVCDC by donating during the telethon, as they usually do.
The trio knows better than most people what a difference the CVCDC can make.
While being born, Mason had a stroke, followed by diagnoses of cerebral palsy and, in the past year, epilepsy.
Cerebral palsy affects muscle tone, movement, and motor skills.
“We didn’t realize he had had a stroke until he was about four or five months old and we noticed he wasn’t using one of his hands,” says Jana.
“We’ve been working with physio and occupational therapy, speech (language pathology) – they’ve been great.” Mason also benefits from the CVCDC’s supported childcare.
“Based on the severity of his stroke, they told us he shouldn’t have been walking, but he’s walking and he’s doing quite well.”
Mason still doesn’t use his right hand much. “We’re working on it. They say he’ll never have fine motor use of his hand, but he’s using his arm now … he wasn’t before.”
The Letains moved recently from Maple Ridge, where Mason was helped by the Ridge Meadows Child Development Centre.
“We’re finding here, we’re having a lot more access to the therapies and a lot more regular therapy sessions and meetings,” Jana notes.
The Letains are Chevron retailers, which keeps them busy.
“We operate the Chevrons in Comox, Port Alberni and Nanoose Bay,” Kurt explains.
“We’re lucky with our job because it’s pretty flexible,” adds Jana.
Kurt says they’re extremely lucky that they can co-ordinate their schedule and Mason’s treatments.
Kelsey is hoping to return to the workforce with family members in the Comox Valley acting as a support network.
“My whole family’s here,” Kelsey says. “My mom was born in Campbell River, still lives in Black Creek – all of her siblings still live in the Valley. Cousins, aunts, uncles – everybody’s been just wonderful.”
Like Mason, Talia’s health problems began during birth.
“When she was born (two-and-a-half months early), I had a uterine infection, and it twisted the umbilical cord,” Kelsey recalls.
“She was without oxygen for some time, so when she was born she had no pulse; they had to revive her. She had a brain bleed and she was also diagnosed with cerebral palsy.”
For her first three months, Talia was a hospital patient in Victoria General and Nanaimo General.
Slightly younger than a year when she started visiting the CVCDC, Talia benefits from physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy.
“Of course, she has her specialists in Victoria, who we see quite regularly,” Kelsey adds.
Talia is at the CVCDC once or twice each week.
“Oh, heavens, yes,” her mother responds when asked if her daughter is responding.
“Much like little Mason, her right arm – we never expected much,” Kelsey recalls. “Her hand was almost always in a fist. She would always use it for balance; she would never use it to interact with toys or (for) movement.
“Now she’s crawling like a champ; that hand is open; she’s willing to move it, use it, pick toys up. She’s very clearly going to be left-handed, but she’s much more willing to use that other hand.
“She’s never going to be 100 per cent, but I’m more than pleased she’s willing to use it.”
Talia also suffered some hearing loss, and gets her hearing checked every six months.
While Talia has made progress, her mother admits her development is behind that of other girls her age.
“Speech (therapists) has been very patient with her,” Kelsey comments. “They’re very willing to go at her pace.”
CVCDC staff are patient with Kelsey, too, she confesses.
“Some weeks it seems like she’s not making any strides. Our therapists can see I’m getting frustrated and worried.
“They sit down and say, ‘Look, think of where’s she’s come from. Don’t worry about it. Things will come, things will happen.”
Support groups are available to help parents cope by sharing their experiences and their emotions.
“There are lots of seminars at night,” Jana says. “I went to one recently on anxiety and learning … so I could plan ahead a little for him (Mason). I met some parents.”
When Talia first started going to the CVCDC, Kelsey was directed to the premature birth group, which meets weekly.
“I went to that for over a year. During that time, I met other parents who had premature children. We got to share stories with each other.
“Sometimes we laughed; sometimes we cried, but it was nice to have that other shoulder to lean on,” Kelsey says as Jana murmurs agreement, “because they knew exactly what you were going through.”
For more information about the Comox Valley Child Development Centre in Courtenay, visit https://cvcda.ca, phone 250-338-4288 or e-mail email@example.com
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A pre-telethon fundraiser called Triple Trouble on Sept. 19 features popular Comox Valley entertainers Kenny Shaw and Todd Butler as well as John Reynolds of Campbell River, a member of the Irish Rovers.
Tickets for the comedy show at the Florence Filberg Centre cost $30, and are available by phoning 250-334-3014.
Mark Allan is a freelance writer and a former editor of the Comox Valley Record.