Lauren's sister Elyse (l) and Lauren (r) painting a lemonade stand sign for the fundraiser. (Supplied)

A heartfelt birthday: Burnaby family hopes to raise $30,000 for BC Children’s Hospital

A Burnaby family wants to raise the money to celebrate the anniversary of their daughter's new lease on life.

By Curtis Seufert | July 27, 2022 |5:00 am

Almost 10 years ago, Amanda Arneill’s daughter, Lauren, was diagnosed with a rare, life-threatening heart defect.

At just six months old, such severe early age health struggles can be a challenging experience for both the children fighting to stay alive, and parents doing all they can to help their young ones.

After her first unexpected heart failure, Lauren would suffer five further episodes of cardiac arrest, spend several days on life support, and undergo multiple heart surgeries at BC Children’s Hospital.

It was a harrowing experience, but Lauren made it through with the invaluable care she received from Children’s.

While Arneill says the anniversary of the first cardiac arrest could be a challenging day to remember, it also signified something worth celebrating—their daughter had received the gift of life.

Now the Arneill family wants to focus on a more optimistic anniversary celebration: On July 30, they’re hoping to raise $30,000 for BC Children’s Hospital in celebration of what they call Lauren’s 10th “heart birthday.”

A year after the first cardiac arrest, Arneill and her family hosted a garage sale fundraiser for Children’s, and managed to raise over $9,000 from that event.

She said that family, friends, and the broader community all came together to contribute donations and items towards the fundraiser.

“Rather than having that date be a traumatic date every year, we decided instead to celebrate the day like the first day of her heart getting better. So then the year after, we had our first garage sale to give back,” said Arneill.

“Now that it’s been 10 years, we want to give back more.”

This year’s fundraiser is set to include an even bigger garage sale, as well as a bake sale, a 50/50 draw, and—since Lauren is now old enough to contribute—a lemonade stand with her sister.

Since Lauren’s first heart birthday, there’s been a lot to celebrate. Now in Grade 5 with a desire to become a marine biologist (or maybe another kind of scientist), Lauren is an active kid who loves taking jazz and ballet classes, swimming, and “especially bike riding.”

“There always seems to be a Slurpee somewhere,” said Arneill, referring to Lauren’s conspicuous preferences for bike riding destinations.

But there are still challenges that persist in navigating life with a rare heart condition. For “heart kids” and their parents, Arneill says there’s added complexity and concern in addition to all the “normal” challenges of growing up.

“The normal bumps and bruises, the normal headaches and chest pain and all of that… when you have a heart kid it makes all of those things scary instead of them just being a normal part of childhood,” said Arneill.

“As a parent, you need to be able to figure out which things are normal and which things are potentially an issue.”

That’s why Arneill says the support from BC Children’s Hospital has been so valuable.

Not only do the Arneills have access to nurses who specialize in helping with heart conditions and a medical system supporting Lauren and her family up until adulthood, but the health professionals who work with Lauren also develop a connection with her and her family.

Arneill says this offers a much-needed sense of stability amid the turbulence of medical challenges.

“They recognize her and know her from when she was a baby,” she said. “And so they’ve gotten to see her grow up, and they take pride in seeing their kids grow up. Because they see all of their heart babies as their kids.”

This year’s heart birthday fundraiser comes with a close connection that Arneill hopes will make a difference for other parents seeking guidance: Funds raised will help Dr. Shubhayan Sanatini, Lauren’s electrocardiologist and “favourite doctor”, to fund a project that supports parents once their kids get a challenging diagnosis.

“Because it’s so traumatizing when your healthy baby suddenly has this crazy, scary heart condition. So he wants to be able to provide parents with information that’s accurate, and not Google about their child’s heart condition,” said Arneill.

“What’s normal, what’s not normal, when they should reach out to the hospital, and [making] it easier for them to reach out to the hospital, which is especially important if they’re not living in the Lower Mainland, or close to the hospital.”

Arneill says her family is deeply thankful for the help they’ve received, not only from the hospital, but also from the community. She says she was surprised at just how many people came together to help their family through a difficult time once they left BC Children’s Hospital 10 years ago.

She’s also surprised by the support they’ve already received this year, and hopes the community can step up once again to make that $30,000 goal a reality.

“Even some people that you wouldn’t expect really step up and join your cause,” said Arneill.

“It’s one of those things [where], you can’t go through that event in life without support. And then it just makes you realize that everything that you do, you need that same sort of support and community around you,” said Arneill.

The fundraiser, which Arneill says is fully supported by BC Children’s Hospital, will take place at 3795 Watling St.; 9am to 3pm, on Saturday, July 30. There’s also an online fundraiser for those who wish to contribute in that way.

Curtis Seufert

Curtis is a summer editorial intern with Burnaby Beacon.

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