Scott Stanfield and Terry Farrell
Spring break promises to be a memorable time for two Courtenay youngsters, thanks to a Vancouver Island charity that grants wishes to children with life-threatening conditions.
Four-year-old Nikko, who suffers from severe chronic lung disease, will travel to Maui with his family.
Eleven-year-old Markus, who has overcome two brain tumours, will drive to Disneyland with his parents, Mark and Yvonne.
The trips are compliments of Help Fill A Dream — a foundation that helps Vancouver Island children by fulfilling dreams, and assisting families financially.
“We believe that every dream is a story of joy and healing,” the foundation’s executive director Craig Smith said. “How amazing to be making two dreams come true on one day.”
Nikko was presented his Hawaiian beach dream at home Thursday. Markus received his RV road trip dream in a presentation at Big Boy’s Toys in Nanoose Bay.
Markus Yule is a Grade 6 student at Valley View Elementary. He was diagnosed with the tumours in September of 2013. Recently, he completed radiation and chemotherapy at BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver. For six weeks he underwent both treatments at the same time. He is now cancer free.
“I’d say it was harder on us,” said Markus’ father, Mark.
“Physically it was tough on him, but he was never in a down mood. It was never a negative thing, he never took it that way. I’m sure when he’s older he’ll fully understand what he’s been through. How close he came and all that. But right now he doesn’t see it that way, he just wants to be normal.”
The diagnosis came about after Markus had fallen at school and hit his head. Mark and Yvonne had him checked for concussion at St. Joseph’s Hospital.
“The doctor just wasn’t quite sure,” Mark said, noting a CT scan revealed the tumours. “He was having concussion symptoms.”
The family will travel to Disneyland and Legoland in California over two weeks during spring break, beginning March 28. The trip is courtesy of Big Boy’s Toys in Nanoose Bay, a family owned and operated business.
“As a family with three boys, Markus’ story touched our family on a personal level,” Big Boy’s owner Ian Moore said. “We believe in giving back to our community and felt that our donation of the use of our RV was something that might bring a smile to this little guy’s face.”
It will be Markus’ second trip to Disneyland, though the first went by in a flash. Last summer through the hospital, he was part of a large group of children who spent a day in Disneyland. The trip came at the end of his treatment.
Besides the foundation, You Are Not Alone (YANA) has also assisted Markus’ family with travel expenses.
Many wishes fulfilled through Help Make a Dream are ones of respite, with dark days ahead for those involved.
Nikko’s is a celebratory dream; recognizing new beginnings.
“Every day there’s another first now,” said Nikko’s mom, Kathy, at a party to announce Nikko’s dream Hawaii vacation. “For two and a half years, everything was so confined. We couldn’t go out. We lived indoors – at hospitals; at home. Now, every day we go outside, we do something else for the first time.”
Next week Nikko, his brother Kalin, and their parents, Kathy Segriff and Lino Bertoria, will travel together on a bona fide holiday – another first. And it promises to be the first of many. Nikko has been given a clean bill of health.
Kids and beaches go hand in hand, so for Nikko and his family, Hawaii was a natural choice.
“Nikko was very housebound (for his first two years in Canada) – he couldn’t go outside; he couldn’t go near the sand and he couldn’t go near the water,” said Kathy.
“We were pretty limited as to what it looked like for him, or him and his brother, to be playing together. So for the wish, I said the biggest dream I have is for them to be outside together, playing on a beach, getting wet together. The wish kind of formulated from there.”
Kathy and Lino adopted Nikko from Vietnam, when Nikko was 17 months old.
He already had a troubled health history, having acquired pneumonia three months earlier. The fluid build-up demanded a tracheotomy, as he only had a millimetre of airway.
When they arrived in Asia to pick up Nikko, he still had the trach tube in his neck.
“We were going to remove it before the trip, but we were advised that it would be better to do it in Canada, due to our medical system,” said Kathy.
When Nikko arrived in Canada, it was clear that the medical treatment he had received in Vietnam was not up to North American standards.
“There is no real history about what happened (in Vietnam),” said Kathy. “It’s just an assumption – there was no paperwork ever done. But the doctors here felt that he probably had too big of a tube (inserted) and when it came out, his throat closed right up on him.”
His first three months in Canada were spent at Victoria Hospital, while the family lived at Jeneece Place.
For the following two years, Nikko’s life was a succession of laser surgeries. The scar tissue from the ill-fitting trach had all but blocked his windpipe. Little by little, surgeries were performed to open his throat passage, to the point where Nikko could breathe.
“It was a shock to me, because what I first figured was going to be a week or two, turned out to be a couple of years of (changed) lifestyle,” said Kathy. “But when people have children, you never know what is going to happen.”
Kathy said that the entire experience was a bonding time for the family.
“All of us had to learn sign language instantly; Nikko had to learn English – he only started speaking when they took the trach out, which was 11 months ago … he has already pretty much already caught up (to his age group). He definitely has bloomed since getting the trach out.”
Now, two and a half years later, the family begins to experience a normal life together.
“With our first son, we were so active and outdoors, and since Nikko came home, we really haven’t been able to experience anything like that,” she said. “We lived a hospital lifestyle, then when we came home we were housebound. We had a nurse every night in the house for two years. Now we will get to see them on the beach together, in the water together; we will get to do all the things a normal family does.”
Kathy said the list of people to thank is long – from all the doctors and staff at the hospital in Victoria, to Jeneece Place, and the Bayshore nurses, and, of course, Fill a Dream.
“I could never list everyone, but it would be wrong not to recognize this community – from all our neighbours and friends who helped out when we were housebound, to everyone who had a part in the huge Help Fill a Dream fundraiser last year, that raised a lot of the money needed for this Hawaii dream to come true. Those are the people that did all of the work that made this dream possible for us.”
Many of those involved in last year’s fundraiser, including organizer Tania Woodbeck, were at the celebration Thursday at the family’s house, to see the dream presented.
“Today was a really special day for Help Fill a Dream,” said Smith, who travelled from Victoria to Nanaimo, then on to Courtenay for the separate presentations. “I feel so fortunate to be able to make these presentations to such inspirational kids. I sometimes feel like I am the luckiest person in the world with this job, and today I got to experience it twice.”
It was Nikko who had the final comment of the day, and there were few dry eyes in the house after his three-word speech. The four-year-old walked over to Smith, arms out, embraced his new friend and said “thank you Craig.”