Special to The Record
It’s a community event that a little girl with a new tricycle would have loved to be a part of.
Instead, the family of Natasha Vipond will ride in the Simon’s Cycles YANA Ride fundraiser on Aug. 20 in her memory.
Natasha died of heart failure and pulmonary hypertension in hospital on July 16, 2015 following a heart transplant. She was 18 months old and left behind parents Vanessa and Les, and her older brother Ben, now age eight.
Natasha’s death followed more than a year of exhausting hospital stays, medical appointments and travel out of town for the family.
That’s when YANA – You Are Not Alone – stepped in. The Comox Valley-based non-profit has, since 1986, offered financial assistance and accommodation to families whose children require out-of-town medical care. YANA also keeps four apartments close to BC Children’s Hospital for families like the Viponds.
“If it wasn’t for them, it would have been even more stressful,” Vanessa Vipond says.
Natasha was born in January 2014 following a normal, uncomplicated pregnancy. By all signs, she was a healthy baby girl.
But by the time she was four months old, she wasn’t gaining weight properly. A follow-up appointment with a pediatrician led to the discovery that she had an irregular heartbeat.
The family was sent to Victoria for testing, expecting an echocardiogram would resolve any concerns. Instead, the cardiologist invited Natasha’s parents into his office and said: “We need to talk.”
It turned out that Natasha had a condition called left ventricular non-compaction cardiomyopathy, a congenital heart defect that prevents the heart from pumping efficiently. She would need a transplant to survive.
The family had expected to leave Victoria and go home the next morning. They ended up staying for a month.
“I remember sitting in that waiting room seeing all of the sick kids and their worried families, thinking: ‘It must be so hard to have a child who is sick having to go through terrible procedures,’” Vanessa recalled in a story she wrote on the experience. “Then, suddenly we became a family with a sick child.”
Natasha did get the heart transplant she needed and began a slow but steady recovery, despite going through a stroke and seizures. But one day, during physiotherapy, she went into cardiac arrest. Hospital staff did what they could, but after 45 minutes she died.
The Viponds are donating the tricycle they bought for Natasha during a trip back home from BC Children’s Hospital, shortly before she received the heart transplant. The toddler only got to use it once, but it is a powerful reminder of a time in her short life when she was happy and well enough to ride it.
Vanessa said it is “tough” to let go of the tricycle, but added: “I wanted it to be used for something and I’m glad that YANA is going to take it.”
Les and Ben took part in the Simon’s Cycles YANA Ride the year Natasha passed away. This year, Vanessa will be joining them as a thank-you to the organization that helped them along the journey. She said it’s a service that prevented a huge financial toll on her family; something not every family can count on.
“We even met families from other cities who had to sell belongings so they could afford to be with their children,” she said. Others had to give up their jobs to spend time with their child.
The ride is also a chance to share the story of their daughter, whom they nicknamed Tashy Smashy – an unstoppable force of silliness and laughter who would not let medications and medical equipment prevent her from reaching for and throwing her favourite toys or laughing with nurses after finishing a medical test.
“Nothing got her down,” Vanessa said.
“What it really comes down to is when you lose a child, the hardest thing is for them to be forgotten,” she said. “You want their journey to matter.
“Natasha would be 3 1/2 this summer, so she absolutely would have been on her tricycle in Marina Park with us.”
Her message to other families who are experiencing the same thing: reach out and don’t give up.
“I would really just say to them, be open to help. You have to keep going. You have to keep positive.”
The Viponds will ride under the name ‘Team Natasha Rose’ in loving memory of their little girl.
To ride in the Simon’s Cycles YANA Ride, or make a pledge in Viponds’ name, visit raceroster.com/events/2017/11701/simons-cycles-yana-ride.
To read Vanessa’s story, visit: yanacomoxvalley.com/stories or head to Facebook to see a page Vanessa set up for Natasha at facebook.com/NatashasHeartJourney