We often call ourselves Vancouver’s best kept secret. The building with the painted orcas, bears and eagle statues is easily recognizable, yet few know that inside are 49 suites each night filled with families whose child needs medical treatment that they can’t get in their hometown. Few know that if the families who stay here had to pay the full cost of a hotel, they would go broke. Few know that beyond those front doors lies a community of people who support one another because most people can’t understand how hard it is to have a sick child and be uprooted to a new city. Those 49 rooms provide 30,000 bedstays every year to families from across BC and the Yukon.
Mia is a bright, sassy young girl who lights up every room she walks into. She lives in the small town of Armstrong, BC in the Okanagan with her mom Cory and dad Chris. At age 8 Mia was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Over the past two years Chris and Cory have worked incredibly hard to put together a team of doctors and psychologists in nearby Vernon to support Mia, given the limited resources available in a small town like Armstrong.
A few months ago one of their team members told Chris and Cory about a specialized inpatient program at BC Children’s Hospital for children with OCD. The day program runs Monday to Friday and involves a team of renowned psychiatrists, pediatricians, social workers, speech pathologists and occupational therapists working to create an individualized, comprehensive support plan for each participant. Accepting only 10 children at a time, the month-long program is highly competitive. After months of interviews, screenings and tests to determine if Mia was a good fit for the program, Chris and Cory got the call they had been waiting for, Mia had been accepted.
But getting in was just one step; next came figuring out the logistics of moving to Vancouver for a month. When they were told about the Easter Seals House things started coming together. “It was a hectic time for us”, says Cory. “We had a lot of changes to when we were going to arrive and leave Vancouver. I called so many times the lady at the front desk must have thought I was crazy! But we were always treated with genuine kindness and flexibility.” Then there was the financial aspect. Travel expenses and taking time away from work while still paying the bills at home can be a huge challenge for families needing specialized medical care. The Easter Seals House offers low-cost accommodations for families in a private suite with a kitchenette. “We absolutely could not have done it financially without the Easter Seals House. It has truly been a blessing in that respect.”
But the value of Easter Seals House goes beyond convenience and affordability. When you ask Mia what she likes most about the Easter Seals House her face lights up as she exclaims “the lounge!” The community lounge with its’ TV and playroom is where she can meet and play with other kids. The lounge is also special to her parents as a place for them to meet others who are going through a similar experience. “Everyone there has something in common. It’s a place of universal support. You don’t even have to share specifics about what you are going through because there is this mutual understanding. It has been really powerful.”
In September Mia started grade five with a new plan for how her teachers, friends and family can best support her to help her reach her full potential. Her parents recognize the important role that Easter Seals House has played in Mia’s journey: “It is overwhelming to think about how important it is that places like this exist. You hear about these services all the time but you don’t clue into it because it doesn’t affect you. Then all of a sudden you are thrown into a situation and you just get it. You realize how huge it is.”