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Anika for story

Children's Hospital Lottery is back to benefit kids like Anika

How your support will allow surgeons to perform their most intricate work

Colourful, caring and a natural performer, Anika Gibson-Craig always had a mischievous grin — the world just couldn’t see it.

Anika was born with a rare condition called Poland-Moebius Syndrome that paralyzed half of her face. Two of her nerves didn’t work as they should. She couldn’t move her eyebrows. She was unable to smile.

Having the Alberta Children’s Hospital right in her own backyard meant Anika was able to benefit from world-class care, and from an early age she’s received specialized treatment for other symptoms of her condition. While it wasn’t always easy, Anika maintained a positive outlook.

“Like a lot of kids who go to the Alberta Children’s Hospital, my physical differences make me stand out in a crowd,” says Anika.  “I don’t always mind.  Sometimes smaller kids want to know why I have a little hand and they want to touch it and learn about it.  I can easily put my hand in my pocket if I get tired of all the attention. With my face it was different.”

'All I knew is that I wanted a smile like my mom's'

So when Anika’s parents approached her about a smile surgery, and told her it was going to be a long operation, that there could be some discomfort, that she wouldn’t be able to talk or dance or jump around for a spell, it was an easy decision.

Anika“All I knew is that I wanted a smile like my mom’s,” says Anika.

That was four years ago. Thanks to a highly intricate “facial reanimation” operation performed by plastic surgeons at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, the world can finally see her smile.

She’s perfected what’s become a signature grin, and whether she’s dancing or performing in school plays, Anika flashes it wherever she goes.

She still sees many clinics and specialists at the Alberta Children’s Hospital and by far, her favourite is Dr. Rob Harrop. He gave her a beautiful gift – the ability to express herself and show the world who she truly is.

“I don’t remember a lot about the operation or my stay at the hospital but my parents can tell you it was a very long day. I recently learned about a special microscope that my plastic surgeon Dr. Harrop and his team used in my surgery to make sure the muscle from my thigh was connected properly, so it could become part of my face. Without the microscope, they wouldn’t have been able to see what they were doing.”

Staying current with medical technology advancements

As a pediatric plastic surgeon, Dr. Harrop helps babies and children with a variety of conditions, including cleft lip and palate, burns, hand injuries and reconstructive surgery resulting from birth defects, cancer and trauma.

He says improving the lives of kids is extremely rewarding. At the same time it’s also incredibly complex and intricate – this kind of surgery couldn’t have been done even a generation ago.

“The technology just wasn’t there,” says Dr. Harrop, who uses high-precision tools and a powerful microscope to perform free-tissue transfers like the one he did for Anika, which involved moving muscle, an artery and tiny veins from her leg to her face.

The operating microscope is a workhorse for surgeons like Dr. Harrop and other members of the plastic surgery team, who use it several hours a day, every day, to help children with everything from tumors to trampoline mishaps.

Re-animating muscle is delicate work that requires powerful optics to transfer nerves and tiny veins using sutures the width of a hair. And just like the smart phone in your pocket or the high-def television hanging from your wall, medical technology is advancing by leaps and bounds.

Community support through the Children’s Hospital Lottery helps ensure experts at the Alberta Children’s Hospital stay on the cutting edge.

This year’s lottery will benefit thousands of kids like Anika by providing the surgical team with a powerful, high-definition operating microscope equipped with better lighting, advanced optics and weightless movement that will allow surgeons to do their most intricate work.

Since its launch 27 years ago, the lottery has raised more than $29 million for the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation.

“The community, through this lottery, has raised millions to help children across all areas of our hospital – one ticket at a time,” says Saifa Koonar, President and CEO of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation. “The Kinsmen have jump-started many ground-breaking initiatives that continue to help the Alberta Children’s Hospital provide national and international leadership in child healthcare and research.”

This year’s lottery, brought to you by the Kinsmen Club of the Stampede City, has more than $2 million in prizes with the grand prize of a $925,000, fully-furnished home in the community of Walden. For more information or to purchase tickets visit childrenshospitallottery.ca.


anika_2019_before_surgery

Anika with her brother and the medical team, including Dr. Harrop (back right) before the surgery.

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