News / Toronto

Real patients star in new Sick Kids’ hospital campaign video

On-set of the campaign video, families and patients found solace in sharing stories of long stretches in hospital, anxiety around diagnoses, and the medical staff who made the difference.

Patient, now actor Cole Heessels 11 is ready for a scene where the kids pull a dump truck.

Torstar News Service Order this photo

Patient, now actor Cole Heessels 11 is ready for a scene where the kids pull a dump truck.

If six-year-old Steven Spice is going to tell you why part of his skull was surgically removed, he’ll ask you first to guess his favourite colour. When you land on the right answer — blue — he’ll ask you to guess his brother’s.

So the process goes, prattling through the hue preferences of everyone he knows, until the precocious tot is satisfied enough to talk shop. “Sick Kids’ actually saved my life,” he said, perched on a tall director-style chair in the early hours of a mid-September morning.

“I would have died.”

With that cleared up, he returned to trivia about colours.

That was the nature of The Hospital for Sick Children’s latest campaign video— the emotional black-and-white video which was released this morning, to kick off a campaign to rebuild the aging hospital.

The heartwarming video shows Sick Kids patients and some actors scavenging in houses for building supplies, dismantling a building, and blanketing downtown Toronto streets as they rush to build the hospital a new facility.

The campaign goal is $1.3 billion dollars, meant to address a wide swath of issues with the existing hospital. The neonatal intensive care unit, which tends to babies with high infection susceptibility, is still a ward-style room designed in the 80s. In the pediatric intensive care unit, low ceilings and a lack of space mean they can’t adapt to new technology.

While Sick Kids performs more than 50 per cent of bone marrow transplants in Canada, the unit’s air filtration system doesn’t currently have the state-of-the-art infection control technologies they want, and while patients face frequent diarrhea as a side effect of their medication, patient rooms there don’t have in-room washrooms.

Sick Kids hospital is launching a massive campaign to rebuild the hospital. They shot a secret launch video on a September weekend in downtown Toronto.

Sick Kids hospital is launching a massive campaign to rebuild the hospital. They shot a secret launch video on a September weekend in downtown Toronto.

Behind-the-scenes of the video shoot in September, patients, former patients and their families ebbed between medical jargon for near-death experiences and simple, comforting conversation.

While Steven took a small break from filming — cheerfully annihilating zombies on his mom’s phone — mom Crystal talked to the Star about her son’s diagnosis. Chiari malformation; it’s like a blister on his spine, she said.

Half-way through the conversation, another parent slipped into the tent. Jodi Baxter’s son Jack has grown up as a patient at Sick Kids, battling severe epilepsy. Dark days were scattered throughout his childhood— days where she was faced with what she believed to be final goodbyes with her son.

But every time, the now-14-year-old came back to her.

Sick kids patient turned actor Jayden Liuzza runs through the scene carrying some prop bricks

Torstar News Service

Sick kids patient turned actor Jayden Liuzza runs through the scene carrying some prop bricks

Crystal and Jodi shared knowing glances while comparing experiences, getting their sons home and back to regular schooling. Both expressed unfathomable gratitude to the staff at Sick Kids for getting them there.

But while affection for the hospital ran deep, patients and their parents also didn’t scrub the unflattering details about Sick Kids out of their experiences.

When Emma Neagu, 14, was first diagnosed with bone cancer in her leg and her lungs, she and her mom were bombarded with information they didn’t understand in quick succession.

“It’s going to be a long process, but you’re going to have this surgery called rotationplasty, they’re going to take your leg, and twist it,” Emma recalled. “And she started explaining – mom, you remember?”

Facing cancer in her leg and in her lungs, Sick Kids patient Emma Neagu had part of her leg amputated last year, went through chemotherapy, and had two surgeries on her lungs. In September, with a prosthesis, she started dance class again for the first time. Here, she shows off a snap of her doing a handstand with her prosthesis on, on a paddle board in the water.

Torstar News Service

Facing cancer in her leg and in her lungs, Sick Kids patient Emma Neagu had part of her leg amputated last year, went through chemotherapy, and had two surgeries on her lungs. In September, with a prosthesis, she started dance class again for the first time. Here, she shows off a snap of her doing a handstand with her prosthesis on, on a paddle board in the water.

Her mother, Claudia, shook her head. She recalled asking the doctor to stop, and saying that it was too much information. Later on in Emma’s treatment, when she and that doctor became much more familiar with one another, they came to an understanding.

Both Emma and her mom acknowledged that the medical team had only meant to assure the then-twelve year old that she had options for treatment.

For the months that followed, they say that the physicians at Sick Kids went above and beyond to make Emma feel comfortable. One went so far as to pass along his cellphone number, telling her to text him if she ever needed to.

Emma, ever the teenager, giddily pulled up an old yearbook photo she’d found of one of her doctors. They went to the same high school, she said. Another photo showed the pair of them recently, beaming beside each other.

Oliver Matthews 7 (who has brittle bone syndrome) looses his prop bricks at the end of a scene as his sister, Ayda 9 pushes him.

Torstar News Service

Oliver Matthews 7 (who has brittle bone syndrome) looses his prop bricks at the end of a scene as his sister, Ayda 9 pushes him.

The photos in her phone show moments of difficulty, but also moments of triumph. She had elected to have the rotationplasty — where the top half of her leg was amputated, the bottom half was twisted and re-attached so that her ankle formed a new knee — over a procedure that would have kept the cosmetic appearance of her leg.

That way, she could do anything she wanted.

And before dashing off for another scene, the fourteen-year-old happily displayed a photo of herself proving that true: with a waterproof prosthetic in place, doing a handstand on a paddle board.

More on Metronews.ca