On Saturday, February 23rd, 2019, Canuck Place parents Allan and Melissa McLeod shared the story of their son,Oliver. Oliver was born with severe complications and when their baby boy was only 8 days old, the McLeod’s were introduced to Canuck Place Children’s Hospice.
Thank you Allan and Melissa for your strength and courage in sharing your story. Read the McLeod’s speech, in full, below.
Good evening and thank you for the opportunity to share our story with you tonight. We feel blessed to be in this space full of individuals who support canuck place families like our own.
My name is Melissa and this is my husband Allan. Tonight, we would like to honour our son Oliver, and pay tribute to the support you make possible.
Oliver was born on december 7th, 2016. Due to severe complications, he was born without a pulse and wasn’t breathing. Doctors were able to quickly revive him and get him breathing but the signs of trauma remained. Mere hours after our son was born, he and I were transferred to children’s hospital via air ambulance. Melissa joined us a few hours later.
Oliver’s reality in the first days of his life were, cords, monitors and tubes, in and out of everywhere. A cooling suit that we affectionately referred to as his ‘snow-suit’. Teams of nurses and doctors looking over his every need. There were U.A.C.S, and U.V.C.S, and gases, and T.F.I.S, and T.P.N.S and all kinds of acronyms that it would take us days to begin to understand.
We still recall the day oliver went in for a mri. This was day six of being new parents and one of the hardest days we had while in the nicu. We knew Oliver had brain damage based on an ultrasound and CT scan that had been done, but we didn’t know the extent of it.
The MRI confirmed what the doctors already expected; Oliver had significant damage on both sides of his brain. We didn’t know what that meant long-term but we were told that he would have some form of disability, if he pulled through.
Doctors then told us that they wanted to remove his breathing tube. Oliver had been on one since he was first born but he was always bypassing it. They explained that leaving him on the ventilator was not benefiting him in any way and they wanted to take him off and see how he’d respond.
The doctor then further explained that they would like us to agree to a do not resuscitate order for Oliver so that if he couldn’t breathe on his own they would not interfere and let “nature take its course” as they put it.
What do we do with this?
How did we get here?
What is happening to our baby boy?
That afternoon it was time for cuddles. Because of the cooling treatment, tubes and monitors we were not able to hold Oliver in our arms until this moment.
The NICU gave us some time to ourselves and said that they would plan to remove the ventilator the next day so they would need a decision about the DNR by then.
We both prayed, talked and cried in each others arms, and decided that we would agree to the DNR. We did not want to bring any suffering to Oliver and if he was meant to be with Jesus then we were prepared to let Jesus take him home.
A week after welcoming Oliver into the world, the nurses told us that they were working on getting us a private room so that Allan and I could have some time with Oliver before they took the breathing tube out. Again, we prayed and hoped God would let us know quickly if Oliver could breathe on his own, and if he couldn’t then we prayed for him to be taken quickly.
There are no words to describe that moment… it just was.
Once Oliver’s tube was removed he immediately started breathing on his own. Oliver was the fighter we expected he was. That night we had the best sleep we’d had in days.
Day 8, the day we were introduced to Canuck Place. We were told by the nurses, that two doctors from Canuck Place wanted to meet with us about Oliver and our situation.
We had heard the name “Canuck Place” before but we didn’t really know who they were. I knew them as the “telethon people” from the Vancouver Canucks games, and Melissa knew even less. Little did we know that they would be the biggest support in our lives from that point on.
That afternoon we met with the Canuck Place team in Oliver’s hospital room. To be honest that first interaction was a blur. Maybe it was sleep deprivation, or the whirlwind of activity in our lives, but we walked away a bit unsure of what care we had been offered. We just knew we wanted to explore it.
Oliver continued to grow and surprise doctors. His breathing was good and his heart was in good shape. His feeds were challenging but he was eating and gaining weight. However, the positives were still weighed down by the signs of trauma that persisted. Despite setbacks, we had the support we needed coming our way.
We had the opportunity to visit Canuck Place Vancouver house for a tour. Once we realized what Canuck Place really was, and what they were offering our family, we agreed to have them in our lives and were so grateful.
As our Canuck Place counsellor says, “We are the friends no one wants to make… But when you do, you are so grateful to have us.”
On December 24th, 2016 we were able to bring Oliver home. The Canuck Place team made that possible.
Prior to coming home, we met with Oliver’s medical team in the NICU as well as nurse’s from Canuck Place to plan how we would deal with a range of situations on our own.
The Canuck Place team helped explain the care plan and how they could support us. One service they offered is a 24/7 nursing hotline; a number we could call with any question at any time, day or night.
Knowing we could contact Canuck Place and have them know everything about Oliver and our situation was such a comfort for us. When you have a child with needs you can’t just call the regular nurses hotline. Canuck Place already knows what was going on, they know our story before we call, because they know us.
Fast-forward again to Wednesday February 8th, 2017, we brought Oliver to the hospital because it seemed as though he wasn’t feeling well. While oliver had been progressing normally in some ways, he was still far from normal, in the ways that it counts. The damage from birth was taking its toll, and his body was getting tired. That night was rough.
Oliver’s health continued to decline. The next day a Canuck Place nurse and counsellor from dave lede house met us at the hospital to offer support in any way we needed. Our friends and family were in and out of Oliver’s room to say their goodbyes and the Canuck Place team stood by us offering support, while knowing when to give us space.
It was during this time that Canuck Place offered to bring Oliver, Allan, and myself over to Canuck Place Vancouver, as Dave Lede House wasn’t open for patients yet. We knew the value of a peaceful, restful, loving environment as we prepared for the unavoidable.
Canuck Place organized transportation and we were welcomed with warmth and love by Dr. Hal and the nurses. Allan and I were able to find rest that night, knowing that Oliver was in the most amazing space with people who are experts in the care of infants and children at their most vulnerable.
The next morning we were given the opportunity to make moulds of Oliver’s tiny hand and foot, as well as his fingerprint. The Canuck Place team helped preserve the memory of our sweet boy. They really think of everything during such a difficult time.
Later that morning, Friday, February 10th, 2017, around 11:00 am, Oliver passed away in our arms.
We were given time to be alone and begin to process the loss of our child. A counsellor came and spent time with us, giving us the support we needed in that moment. Our family was allowed to join us without question.
The following days and months were dark. But Canuck Place was there.
In time, and with more than a few counselling sessions under our belt, we joined a bereavement group that operates out of dave lede house here in Abbotsford. The best way I can describe bereavement group is that it’s a nice place to simply sit with others who actually know what you’re going through.
You don’t have to hide emotions and everyone understands what it’s like to have your whole evening ruined by a diaper commercial that you didn’t know you weren’t ready for. It’s a small community of people who just “get it” without having to explain anything. It’s another invaluable service to add to the list of things that Canuck Place does very well.
We were able to access counselling and our bereavement group because they were offered at Dave Lede House here in Abbotsford.
Allan works in Langley and I in Abbotsford. If we had to drive to Vancouver for all those meetings, most of them would not have happened.
I honestly don’t know where we’d be without this support. Because of it, with time and hard work, and with the Canuck Place team close by, I can say that we are in a better place than we were in those first few months.
I don’t think we have to tell you that there is nothing that rocks you to your core, like the loss of a child. In those darkest hours, when no one knows what to do, or what to say, when all hope seems lost, there are few bright lights that shine through the darkness. Canuck Place is one of those lights.
We are beyond grateful and forever thankful to have Canuck Place in Oliver’s life, while he was with us, and now while we continue to navigate through our grief.
Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give but cannot. All of that unspent love gathers in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.
Because of your generosity to Canuck Place – Dave Lede House is in my hometown, and gives the chance for others in my community and around B.C. to benefit from the work they do. I cannot tell you enough, about the good things that happen there. We will be forever thankful to them and you for making this possible.