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A Sourdough on the Sunshine Coast: A story of Kaitie Leah

Posted by on Oct 6, 2016

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Kaitie Leah - A Sourdough on the Sunshine Coast

My daughter, Kaitie Leah, who lost half her eyesight due to MS.

This story takes us to the Sunshine Coast via an intervention in life that happened right in the middle of a sunshiny day. We had no thoughts of pending trauma as we sat around the crackling spruce fire that afternoon, our lives would change in hours and nothing will ever be the same again. I bring this story to you because the outcome of this medical investigation affects 100,000 Canadians and a very high ratio of Yukoners.

Sitting around an outdoor fire is a historic part of Yukon social life. We are doing just that, high on the ridge above Wolf Creek Campground, overlooking the Yukon River valley; it is the month of August. Company from Inuvik has shown up, as well as our good friend Siggi Rogge off the 3 Cheers, a 42’ Whitby Ketch sailboat moored in Alert Bay, B.C. (Siggi is currently looking for a crew to travel through Alaska next spring, seriously get ahold of me). Sea yarns fly around the blaze. Good-natured tales grow as high up in the sky as the sparks that snap and pop and threatened to burn yet another hole in my jacket.

Kaitlin, my daughter, and Tyrel, her partner, arrive at the fire. “What’s up sweetie?” I ask. She is her usual quiet self, but I sense a disturbance. “I had to go to the hospital today, I am having trouble seeing out of one eye,” Kait states. “What is the prognosis?” “Basically, call Dr. Gorrell, the optometrist and see him as soon as you can.” “I have lost half of my sight in that eye over night!” she is distressed. Captain Rick looks at her and states, ‘You will go back to the hospital right now and you will not leave until they give you a better answer!’ He loves this girl.

Dr. Guy Gorrell returns to Whitehorse from a long distance relay mountain bike race to check on Kaitlin at the Whitehorse Hospital. He is concerned and Kaitlin is booked for Vancouver and the Ophthalmologist Specialist clinic at VGH the next day.

And so it begins…the date is August 27th, 2011.

I travel with my daughter; we arrive in Vancouver and the run from one specialist to the next begins. Kait is losing all sight in her right eye. No one knows what is causing her to go blind, but signs of the anomaly are worse in her good eye, we all fear she will soon be blind in both eyes. They dilate her pupils so she can’t see with either eye and inject her with a yellow dye to trace and determine where the damage is originating. The dye colours her skin a bright yellow and takes longer and longer to leave her body, people stare.

No one knows what is happening, we are told to stay away from air conditioning. It is a hot summer in Vancouver, eating al fresco is easy; finding a room to sleep at night that does not have air conditioning is a challenge. People are generous; we are given the penthouse at the Best Western on Granville for the same rate as a regular room. It is a busy summer, we have no reservations, we have no idea of how long we will be in Vancouver. In this room we can open the doors and let the summer breezes blow through without worry of contaminants from air conditioners blowing into Kait’s eyes.

Shortly after we fall exhausted into bed, a clamour rises on the deck surrounding the room. A very loud and desperate adolescent seagull is trapped between the rail and the safety rail on the edge of the 14-floor hotel. A flock of concerned relatives have shown up to offer advice and encouragement! There is no way that we will sleep this night!

We tell the very tiny East Indian girl at the front desk of our problems. She looks like Princess Jasmine from Disney’s movie Aladdin. She is so slightly built I believe the weight of her eyelashes will topple her over. But she is a fierce warrior woman! The maintenance man has left; it is up to us to resolve the problem. I get several large towels, Kait is to herd the raucous white brat into a corner; I will throw the towels over its head and then hurl it over the side with a lawn chair! Princess Jasmine from the front desk will protect us all from slashing beaks and barred claws with an umbrella.

The whole damned seagull family has now congregated on the roof deck, muttering and cursing. Deliberating their strategy they watch us with slitted evil eyes as we creep through the doorway. Kait’s new one-sided blindness causes her a loss of depth perception. Believing that we are attacking their kin (which we are sort of), the flock of seagulls attacks us with a vengeance. The sky is filled with screaming birds, showing us bright red gullets and fierce slashing beaks.

Jasmine punts and parries the flock, a tiny dark silhouette prancing along the Vancouver skyline with her umbrella. More gulls flock in from the sea, the night is no deterrent. We need to pop the silly adolescent seagull over the rail (it is only trapped in its mind, a common occurrence in adolescence). Fiercely we rush the bird with the beak, Jasmine thrusts and yells in defiance. We are swinging the towels to no avail, our fearless leader, yells ‘ SCREW THIS, RUN!’ …and we do. It is a sweltering hot airless night, resounding with seagull squawk.

I lay beside my daughter in the dark. I wonder, if given the choice of losing my sight, or losing my legs what would I chose? I would choose to lose my legs. Kait doesn’t complain, she has her notebook and is constantly jotting down information, she queries the specialists in their own language. She is intent, she is focused, she wants to know what is attacking her body, her eyes. We do not talk about what could happen, we cannot luxuriate in emotion, we cannot cry because that would admit defeat and we are not defeated.

We are so very fortunate that Kaitlin has extra health coverage through her job with the Federal Government. We could not have survived on the $75/day for expenses that Yukon Health care provides for Yukoners should they need treatment outside of the Yukon. Trying to meet last minute appointments requires taking cabs at $25 a trip, not to mention food and accommodation!

Kaitlin is done, she has difficulty maneuvering the traffic and crosswalks, we are almost run over…I pound my fist on the hood of the distracted driver’s car that has screeched to a halt at my feet. The noise of the city is wearing her down. After 7 days of constant examination and no solutions my brave, strong girl is breaking down. It is time to go to the boat, let’s head for the Sunshine Coast and spend the long weekend on the Audrey Eleanor? It is now Labour Day weekend, our next appointment is not until Tuesday.

The Audrey Eleanor has spent the last four years moored in Madeira Park in Pender Harbour; I want to take my baby girl there so she can relax. We arrive to find that the boat needs a good cleaning; this is not the weekend for that. “How about checking out Powell River, Kaitie Leah?” I had fallen in love with Powell River a few years earlier and thought it would be a perfect get away. She agrees and we catch the last ferry at Earl’s Cove.

After a week in the city, a sense of peace and calm blanket us at Earl’s Cove. Small children laugh without worry as their parents exchange gossip in the ferry line up, there is no hurry. We watch as the ferry approaches, music drifts around the parking lot. Loaded with cars, the ship breaks from its berth quietly, we pass between small islets and cruise into a fog cloud, the sun shines as we pass through the mist and glide into Jervis Inlet, I feel like I am entering Avalon. My daughter smiles at me …

To be continued

P.S. Dr. Guy Gorrell is a name well known at the eye specialist clinic at VGH. The specialists there consider him a gifted Optometrist, we consider ourselves very fortunate to have him as our eye Doctor in Whitehorse. Thank you is such a small collection of words for someone who has helped define your life, but thank you Guy.

Sunny Dawn Kostelnik

Sunny Dawn Kostelnik

Author at The White Girl
"Sunny" Dawn Kostelnik is a published author that has written two books, The Adventures of the Audrey Eleanor and The White Girl. She contributes regularly to the Whitehorse Star, A Sourdough on the Sunshine Coast and currently writes The Sourdough Chronicles for North of Ordinary Magazine. She has moved to the Sunshine Coast from the far north and still can’t believe that she lives in this paradise!
Sunny Dawn Kostelnik

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