Ask Richmond mom Hayley Atkinson what the Lights of Hope mean to her, and she’ll say, “Everything.”
Although her journey to motherhood and good health has not been easy, Atkinson is profoundly grateful to St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver and to the generous donors who support the hospital’s charity, Lights of Hope.
Thanks to the hospital and its charity, the mom-of-two battled kidney failure, twice, received two transplants and, against the odds, gave birth to two beautiful baby girls.
Back in 2003, however, a 20-year-old Atkinson and her future husband, Bill, didn’t know what lay ahead.
They were engaged, finishing school, and planning their future when everything came to an abrupt halt.
Her kidneys were failing as a result of an auto-immune disease and her nephrologist, Dr. Abeed Jamal, recommended an immediate six-month course of chemotherapy.
Atkinson feared the treatment would dash her dreams of having children and, although Dr. Jamal wanted to start the chemo right away, he understood the couple’s concerns and sent them to a fertility specialist.
“That’s the way they do things at St. Paul’s,” she said.
“Right from the get-go, they weren’t just treating my disease, they were treating me and the life I hoped to have.”
A whirlwind of tests, treatments and a hastily-planned wedding ensued, with Bill insisting they move up the date and, two weeks after her diagnosis, their families gathered to celebrate their marriage.
Atkinson’s renal team spent the next two years trying to control her condition, but eventually she had no choice but dialysis and, ultimately, find a donor for a full kidney transplant.
Atkinson’s mom, Jeanne Wunderlick, soon learned she was a match and insisted on being the donor.
The surgery was a game-changer and Atkinson’s quality of life improved immediately.
“It’s a euphoric feeling to give someone the opportunity for a good life – a really good life,” said Wunderlick, who has just turned 65.
A year later, Atkinson got the green light she had been waiting for - they were cleared to try for a baby.
“We made it 36 weeks without any significant complications,” Atkinson said of her pregnancy.
That is, until a freak snowstorm on the day of her scheduled C-section, Dec. 18, 2008.
Fortunately, they got to St. Paul’s in time to welcome their first born in the midst of a winter wonderland. With mom and daughter safe and cozy inside, dad stepped out to take photos of the hospital wrapped in the quiet, snowy brilliance of the Lights of Hope.
The little family was discharged on Christmas Eve, with their baby, Rebecca Hope, named in honour of the hospital lights.
And a year later, Atkinson’s doctors gave the all-clear for baby number two. But this time, there were serious complications and at just 20 weeks, she was put on full-time bedrest.
For two months, the renal and obstetrics teams worked together to preserve her kidney function and delay her delivery, with an extra day for the unborn baby meaning the difference between life and death.
In her 26th week, it was clear the baby wasn’t going to wait much longer and responsibility for her care was transferred to BC Women’s Hospital.
And an extra 21 precious days later, baby Leah Grace was born at 29 weeks, tiny but feisty.
But the pregnancy had taken its toll and Atkinson needed another kidney.
This time, a close friend from university stepped forward and, in December 2013, Carolyn Putt celebrated her 30th birthday at St. Paul’s by giving Atkinson the priceless gift of good health.
And so, for the second time in five years, Atkinson left St. Paul’s on Christmas Eve under the Lights of Hope.
“The fact that I have two healthy children is nothing short of miraculous. Truly, the Lights of Hope mean everything to our family,” said Atkinson.
Every year, donations to the Greatest Needs Fund, through Lights of Hope, help improve the lives of people such as Atkinson and her family. Donate today at LightsOfHope.com/donate.