Richmond mom living the dream, against the odds

Hayley Atkinson praised St.Paul's Hospital and its Lights of Hope charity for enabling her to start a family and lead a healthy life, despite multiple kidney failures

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. 

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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.

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