Christine and Bryson Katzel have twice booked a trip to Hawaii for their family, but both times, to the dismay of their three children, they have had to cancel due to health issues.
The couple’s youngest daughter, six-year-old Layla, was born with Down syndrome, and has suffered a number of other complications as a result.
“Birth defects are common in children with Down syndrome, so we discovered in utero that she had Duodenal Atresia (blocked duodenum) which required surgery at one-day-old,” Christine explained.
“We also discovered that she had an Atrial Septal Defect (ASD) as well as a cleft mitral valva in her heart that would require surgery around age three. At 20 months old, however, after several weeks of fever, she was diagnosed with Acute Myeoloid Leukemia which required six continuous months of chemotherapy treatment. Because of the chemo and the need to allow her immune system to recover, the heart repair was delayed until she was healthy enough to endure it.”
In June 2015, Layla had open heart surgery to repair her ASD and rebuild her valve, and today she is “healthy and strong, and nearing four years in remission from her cancer,” Christine said.
That outcome makes the Katzel’s upcoming vacation all the more exciting.
In May, they will finally be making their Hawaiian dreams come true, thanks to the Children’s Wish Foundation.
As one of 10 families in Langley to be granted a wish over the past five years, they have chosen to fly to Hawaii to stay at Disney’s Aulani Resort.
The family was referred to Children’s Wish by the Oncology nurses at BC Children’s Hospital after Layla completed her chemotherapy treatments.
“About a year after finishing treatment, we received a call from Children’s Wish letting us know that Layla was granted a wish. We were overwhelmed and grateful at the offer, after all we had been through as a family,” Christine said.
“The wish gave us something wonderful to look forward to. We initially delayed submitting a wish until after Layla’s heart surgery was completed, to ensure she was as healthy as possible.”
Christine says she is most looking forward to spending time with her family away from the pressures of work, sports and other commitments — something they have not been able to do before.
“Taking this trip will be the first time our family has gone away on a holiday together, aside from camping,” Christine said.
“Layla is cognitively delayed, so she really has no understanding of the wish trip. But we know that once we start the trip, she will be extremely excited about all the sights, sounds and new experiences. And her big sisters (Charlie, 10, and Annie, 7) will be equally thrilled by the experience.”
For their upcoming vacation, Pacific Blue Cross will provide travel insurance, a gift the company has been giving to families with sick children for the past 28 years.
Many times, children who have pre-existing health conditions are ineligible for coverage, making travel all the more difficult.
“The insurance frees families like us from the worry of costly health setbacks so we can experience the joy of travel, something that otherwise would hold us back from a holiday such as this,” Christine said.
The province of B.C. officially proclaimed March as Children’s Wish Month, and to celebrate, Pacific Blue Cross has teamed up with the B.C. & Yukon Chapter of the Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada to launch the Text Bluewish campaign.
Community members who would like to help grant wishes like Layla’s can donate by texting BLUEWISH to 80100 to give $5, $10 or $20. Donations can also be made online at www.textbluewish.ca.
Pacific Blue Cross will match donations to help reach a goal of $10,000 — the average cost of a wish.
Layla, 6, with her sisters Charlie, 10 and Annie, 7. Submitted photo.