This blog post was inspired by Emmett and also by the book Zoom - written by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Michael Martchenko.
I am so happy with my new power chair. It is awesome and very fast and the best thing of all is that it is orange.
Thank you to everyone on Emmett's medical team who helped make this happen. Thanks to the BC Government for funding the chair, and for the support from the Shriners in funding important extras required to make the chair more functional.
August is SMA awareness month. Emmett was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, Type 1 in August 2015. This disease is the #1 genetic cause of death of infants. By the fall of 2015, Emmett could not be upright for any length of time as he would choke on his own saliva (this is why he still has a suction machine that is always within reach). That fall Emmett also started receiving the drug Spinraza, which has opened new pathways for messages to get to his muscles. You can see the progression throughout these photos. Thank you for following our blog and learning more about Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Learn more at Cure SMA Canada and Cure SMA.
July 9th Update: Emmett is back home. The procedure went well. It is a tough day with a lot of anxious moments - because Emmett knows everything there is to know about lumbar punctures. This was his 18th lumbar puncture - they'll be happening every four months for life, unless a new method or a new drug is discovered. Emmett wants you to know that he does like going to sleep when this happens.
Every four months Emmett receives a lumbar puncture where a tiny amount of spinal fluid is removed and a tiny amount of Spinraza is injected. This is the drug that has reinvigorated the pathways in his spinal column so that his brain can talk to his muscles. So that messages like, "Hey, swallow now!" and "Emmett, hold your head up!" or "Reach out and turn the page of that book!" get through. And Emmett does it. It is a miracle drug - a miracle that requires a huge amount of work. Recently on Canadian news there have been reports about kids' parents seeking funding for a gene therapy treatment. A one time treatment - but it is only for children under the age of two and only in Canada under unique circumstances. Health Canada hasn't approved it yet. Obviously, not something that is available to Emmett. We are, however, so thankful for the drug that is available. The healthcare system that is helping him. And Spinraza is an amazing miracle drug that is absolutely working for Emmett.
So this week, Wednesday July 8th, Emmett will be getting a lumbar puncture and for the first time Emmett will be anethesized prior to the procedure starting. Yes, that does mean that he has been awake and alert for every other lumbar puncture, however, for the last one he was anethesized part way through. You can appreciate that Emmett is quite looking forward to "falling asleep in the middle of the day!". This is something that this five year old simply doesn't do any more.
Four months is not a long time, but four months ago when Emmett had his last lumbar puncture the world was a different place. There was a virus overseas but nobody on this side of the ocean was really in a panic, it was just a concerning situation. Emmett was Abbotsford's Police Chief for a day. Then in the intervening time everyone was suddenly welcomed into a version of Emmett's world. Sanitize! Wash your hands! Social Distancing! Don't go to the grocery store! Stay away from anyone who has a cough! On and on it goes - a new daily plan for everyone. Schools closed. Work places closed. Everyone's life became a closer version of what Emmett has been living since he was six months old. There have been changes for Emmett too. Tough changes.
His family bubble was instantly closed up. Family members who were still working were not able to be inside his social bubble. The rare visits meant being on opposite sides of the yard. Video conferencing became the main stay of story time and more. Physiotherapy via video conferences? Yup. Speech Therapy - hmm, curiously Emmett doesn't hear from them much. Occupational therapy - absolutely. In fact, there have been days when Emmett has been booked for 2 and 3 video conferencing meetings. So incredible. Pam and I have stayed in that family bubble - we're not working outside of the home. We're not going into grocery stores. We are extreme social distancers - if that is even a word.
Yet it is the start of summer, so when BC opened their provincial park system we logged in and booked a campsite for the five of us. Emmett had already agreed that he was ready for something new. Alice Lake has been a spring go-to place. It has cell phone service. Electricity. And the road ways are paved. It is ideal for camping and it was not even an hour away from BC Children's Hospital. Emmett and his family have camped at Rolley Lake and loved it. We've done day trips to Golden Ears. But this year was going to be a stretch - we booked a few nights at Sasquatch Provincial Park. It is about 10 minutes drive outside of cell access. There is no electricity (don't worry, our RV has been fitted with a small inverter that can power all of Emmett's medical equipment). And it is the furthest that Emmett has been from BC Children's since he was five months old. Emmett and Grandpa were up for it; everyone else was optimistic with a large side of anxiety.
We choose provincial parks for two reasons. First off is that they are large and spacious sites with plenty of room for Emmett and us to roam without bumping into someone at a neighbouring campsite. Second, with a medical note children and their parents get the base campsite rental free. This is a huge bonus for a family that is always challenged by the expenses that sometimes never end as you accommodate someone with medical requirements. The large sites also typically mean that there is a lot of trees, birds, and nature trails to explore. You can believe that the power chair batteries were fully charged and that the WeCarryKevan backpack was ready to go.
Emmett was so excited - just seeing the RV arrive in his driveway brought on a fantastic response. The morning that we we heading out, Emmett played on his own all morning while his mom and dad packed. Emmett is a great little boy but it is very rare that he will spend that amount of time without insisting that someone play with him. Once at Sasquatch Provincial Park Emmett wanted to do it all. He wanted a campfire. S'mores. Roasted marshmallows. Hot Dogs. Swimming time. Fishing. Playing at the beach. Going for a hike. And he did it all and then some.
This camping trip was fantastic. And it will give Emmett great memories to dwell on while he is undergoing procedures that he doesn't enjoy at the hospital. We do have to say that the hospital is still one of Emmett's favourite places. There are so many people who know him there. His friends. There's staying overnight at Canuck Place - another fabulous group of people who go out of their way to support and assist Emmett and his parents. Thank you for supporting Emmett. You can send him a message on FaceBook through his parents - or his grandparents. This lumbar puncture is a tough go - but Emmett is even tougher! Literally, the strongest and toughest boy we know.
And now for some photos:
Deer Lake is one of the lakes in Sasquatch Provincial Park. It's a beautiful park. However, Emmett found a pothole with his powerchair and he got stuck! Fortunately, we didn't need to call in a tow truck.
The WeCarryKevan backpack was certainly put to use - and not just for wide trails. This backpack is made for going deep into the forest (so far that means within metres of the main trail!) which is so much fun for Emmett.
We found Eeyore's House! It is always exciting when we find Eeyore's house. Emmett loves his Winnie the Pooh stuffies - and when Emmett is on a hike he is always keeping his eyes open for Eeyore's house. After a hike there is nothing as relaxing as lounging near a campfire.
While fishing during a canoe ride, Emmett caught his first fish. And after fishing it was refreshing to go for a swim in Hicks Lake - only Josh and Emmett were brave enough for that!
Campfires are so much fun - but finding rocks is even better!
Returning home involved getting cleaned up (we had good weather but there was one rainy day) and then having a swim in the backyard pool. Lots of fun stuff so far this summer. After this next injection of power juice is completed, we're sure that Emmett has plans. Because he always has plans!
BC's Provincial Parks recently opened for day use and, after a wait to allow the first rush of hikers to subside followed by a wait to allow the downpour to stop, we headed to Rolley Lake Provincial Park on a cloudy morning. With the weather promising us a day of sunshine ahead while seriously looking like another downpour could begin at any moment, we were off on the 30 minute drive to this park. As we were getting ready I commented that this was a 'we carry Emmett' hike and he quickly corrected me that it was a 'We Carry Kevan' hike. And he is correct, because the backpack that Emmett sits in for hiking is a unique people carrier. It was designed and made specifically for carrying those who cannot walk into places that they'd never be able to go with a wheelchair. We've mentioned it before, and Kevan is a young man who has Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 2; his friends carried him around Europe in a custom backpack. That prototype is now the WeCarryKevan backpack that is available online. Emmett, as you know, also has Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Emmett has Type 1, however, with the Spinraza doses that he has been getting since before he was one (and he's now five) Emmett has progressed and now presents as SMA Type 2.
With the backpack resting on the ground, Emmett is set into the seat and strapped in. It is very secure and the backpack even has hand holds for him to grab onto when he needs a bit more support. Then with the help of one other person, Josh (Happy Birthday today May 30th, Josh!) picks up the backpack containing Emmett and straps it onto his back. It's perfect. Emmett sits up nice and high so this was ideal for grabbing wet tree branches and shaking the rain water onto his mommy. We were very pleased to note that do to social distancing and personal safety, the trails were labeled for foot traffic to go in one direction only and that 2 metres must be maintained upon approaching another family/group. As we were there mid-morning we had most of the trail all to ourselves (apart from a few people fishing and a couple of other hikers).
The first part of the trail is very accessible and Emmett has done that in his chair, but after about 500 metres the tree roots stop all wheeled conveyances. This is where the WeCarryKevan backpack shines. If Josh can walk there, then Emmett can go there. It was quite funny as Emmett realized this and began giving orders, "Go Up!" and "Go There!" and "Go Down!". Emmett just giggled as they were tramping through the forest. By the way, the up and down is referring to going up steep hills and down hills to the lake. Of course, Emmett did think that his daddy could take him up a tree ... but that didn't happen.
Emmett is a very brave kid, but there was absolutely no way that he would even think about touching the huge banana slug that was crossing the path. Fortunately, it was travelling pretty close to the appropriate path direction so we didn't have to report it to the park ranger. We did see a park ranger and asked if they had seen any bears. Emmett's eyes popped wide open when the ranger responded affirmatively - but we relaxed when she said that the bear had been near her house which was a long distance away from the park we were visiting.
After our hike we had a picnic lunch near the lake and then we sat on the beach. Emmett was throwing stones into the water (possibly to scare the fish away from where daddy was fishing) and Emmett also spent a bit of time fishing himself. He has an amazing Lightening McQueen fishing pole and we saw a minnow chasing after his lure. Today neither fisherman caught anything so it was a good thing we had sandwiches and weren't expecting a fish fry for lunch. While Josh was carrying Emmett, Alisha had a backpack full of gear plus a u-shaped pillow that, when Emmett tires and cannot hold his head up well, comes with the WeCarryKevan backpack and offers both support and comfort on those longer trips. Or those more rugged trails where Emmett gets jostled more than he is used to. Pam and I had the suction machine and water bottles in our backpack. So all of us were carrying a bit of stuff. Josh did find that a walking stick helped - we're going to have to get some proper walking sticks for future hikes.
From Emmett and all of us,
Happy Birthday, Josh!
When the bathroom renovation project started, no one realized that a pandemic was going to affect the entire world. Here we are now in the middle of May and the bathroom (except for minor things like towel racks and a mirror) was finished almost three weeks ago. This has been a long time coming and Emmett is very proud of his newly renovated bathroom. As mentioned already, this was making the best use of the existing space and ensuring that it is accessible. Entering the door is now much easier as there is a new pocket door that is much wider than the previous door - plus it tucks out of the way when it is open which is fantastic. The main bathroom light is motion activated so goes on as soon as one enters the room; plus the switches are low so that they can be easily accessed from a wheel chair. The tiled floor leads right to the roll in shower at the end of the room. The floor is level until you get to the shower and then it slopes to the drain. A ceiling heat lamp there and one near the bathtub ensure that everyone will stay warm when they get out of the water. The new, deep tub is available for baths and for physio sessions - as Emmett still loves playing in the tub. The biggest change in plans, maybe even the only significant change, is that the sink is fixed and cannot be raised/lowered. The sink is fixed at at height that Emmett can access in his manual wheelchair and his KidsWalk standing walker. It has an automatic faucet so that Emmett can now wash his own hands.
Thank you. Literally, so much thanks to all of you for your support and donations to this project. We also thank CKNW Kids' Fund and Muscular Dystrophy Canada for their generous financial donations to this project. Also, huge thanks to Micah Hooge, the project manager from Highplace Homes, and his incredible team who brought this accessible bathroom dream to fruition.
As a result, after living with Grandma and Grandpa for seven weeks, Emmett is back home and loving it. Seeing toys that had been left at home and untouched for nearly two months. As you can imagine, it was better than Christmas. Of course, it also coincided with some amazing weather. That has resulted in bike rides, hill rolling, and long walks/rolls through the neighbourhood. The heat wave didn't last and now there is more seasonal weather, but it is still awesome. During the heatwave temperatures were 29°Celcius. That meant it was time to hit the sprinklers!
Like many of you, Emmett has had many meetings using video conferencing. And we are not talking about family - meetings with his occupational therapist, his physiotherapist, the teacher at Canuck Place ... this boy is busy. In fact, his Aunt Katie has even been sending him some kindergarten preparation work to give him a head start on school for next fall. Of course, we don't know what that is going to look like! Even more good news, the City of Abbotsford has returned to the corner near their house, where Emmett frequently rolls, and did the final touch. They moved the stop sign from the middle of the sidewalk (okay, it was maybe 15cm off centre but that's close enough to the middle) to beside the sidewalk. As a result strollers, wagons, and power chairs can easily move down the sidewalk and to the awesome accessible curbs. Thank you City of Abbotsford, Emmett really appreciates this. Of course, Grandma time is always fun. Grandma Pam is still in isolation mode so able to interact with Emmett. Grandma Rhonda is interacting with Emmett all of the time, just not by being physically present. Visits at a distance and using social media are the best that can happen right now.
CureSMA Canada is an amazing organization that works endlessly to help individuals with SMA and their families. One of the things they did during this pandemic time was to send a care package (pic on left) to put a smile on faces of those dealing with the pandemic but also with SMA. And it did give Emmett a smile. The second pic is Emmett in his backyard helping his mom with gardening. The third pic is just when Emmett moved back home and got to hang out with his favourite toys that he had left at home while he was at Grandma and Grandpas. He had barely been back at his house for any time at all when he announced to his parents a schedule outlining which toys he would play with and when. Who knows how long he had been planning this.
In the next pics we start off with Emmett being mommy's helper and sorting and folding socks. Then out for a roll on a typical rainy BC morning. And then playing with his remote controlled excavator, dump truck, and front end loader.
This has not been the spring that anyone expected, but in so many ways it has been a fabulous spring for the Willms' family. We know others have not been so fortunate and are hearts are heavy for them, but we also have to celebrate when things are good. And, for Emmett, things are good.
Thanks to a great project team. If you're in the Fraser Valley, remember these businesses:
Highplace Homes - Micah Hooge
Valley Imperial Enterprises (Electrician)
And again, a huge thanks to all of you. Your support, whether financial or spiritual or emotional, is so very important to all of us.