Meet Sydnee, our 2020 Champion Child!
Sydnee had always been a happy, healthy child and had grown into an avid and talented dancer by time she was in her teens. That’s why it came as a complete shock to her family when she was diagnosed at the Alberta Children’s Hospital with a serious heart condition and learned she would require major heart surgery at the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton.
Following the operation, when specialists tested her reflexes, there was no response on the right side of her body. An MRI revealed Sydnee had suffered a massive stroke, which was a very unlikely risk of the surgery. Her mom, Michelle, vividly remembers the neurologist showing her the scan of Sydnee’s brain and saying the white areas showed where the brain was damaged. All Michelle could see was white.
When Sydnee woke up, she couldn’t speak, read, recognize letters of the alphabet or even remember her sister’s name. Her entire right side was paralyzed. She recognized her mom and dad, but her only ways of communicating with them were eye contact or limited movements.
Walking the road to rehabilitation, one step at a time
Sydnee was transferred back to the Alberta Children’s Hospital where she began a very long road of rehabilitation. Getting her vocabulary and ability to speak back involved hard work with speech language pathologists, as she literally needed to re-learn her ABCs. She also began working with physiotherapists each day to help her learn to walk again. In the beginning, it took all of her strength and energy just to sit up in bed for a few minutes. Gradually, she learned to pull herself up, then stand with assistance, then take a few steps with a walker and eventually, put one foot in front of the other on her own. She worked extensively with occupational therapists to redevelop her fine motor skills. Little things many people take for granted like picking up a small object posed huge challenges for Sydnee.
She also met pediatric neurologist Dr. Adam Kirton and his team, who began further treatment through a robotic device called the KINARM. This robot allowed Sydnee to play video games designed to help her motor and sensory recovery. She lived on Unit 4 for more than two months, where she met some amazing nurses and she also began attending Gordon Townsend School, located right inside the hospital. Through the school, Sydnee was able to play in the annual wheelchair hockey tournament against her heroes, the Calgary Flames.
Surfing, teaching dance and living her best life
Though Sydnee still faces challenges each day, she and her family are so grateful for their amazing caregivers at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, including Dr. Kim Meyers and her team in cardiology and Dr. Kirton and the neurology team. Because of the care of these special people, Sydnee is not only walking and talking again, she’s back to living her life. She’s learned to write and play trumpet with her left hand, since her right (and dominant) hand was compromised by the stroke, she’s back to some classes at her high school, she’s teaching dance to younger kids and after a great amount of determination, she was back surfing on the lake last summer.
Sydnee is thrilled to be the 2020 Champion Child for the Alberta Children’s Hospital as part of the Children’s Miracle Network Champions program. She, along, with her parents, Michelle and Ron, and sister, Kaenna, are very excited for the opportunities ahead and to share their story on behalf of the 102,000 kids and families who rely on care at the hospital each year.
Champions is a Children's Miracle Network program supported by Children's Hospitals Week Canada sponsors Walmart, The Brick and Air Canada Foundation, that honours remarkable children who have triumphed despite severe medical challenges. For their courage and perseverance, these children have been selected as international ambassadors for the 17 million kids treated each year at children's hospitals supported by Children’s Miracle Network.