Alex has been a frequent visitor to the Alberta Children’s Hospital since being diagnosed at age three with a brain condition called Chiari Malformation Type 1. His skull was too small for his brain causing the back of it to descend into the brain stem opening, building up fluid and pressure. The condition brought on debilitating migraines for the then two-year-old who could only express the pain he was experiencing by curling up on the couch, clinging to his head. It also affected his hearing and speech. Following an MRI which confirmed the malformation, his mom was told her young son would need brain surgery to relieve the pressure and slow down the symptoms. While not a guarantee it would stop his headaches, they knew it was the best option. Neurosurgeon Dr. Claire Gallagher performed a five-hour operation that involved removing the back of Alex’s skull and the portion of his brain that was descending and then patching it up with another piece of his skull. While the surgery helped improve his speech and hearing, it only relieved his headaches temporarily. He will soon seek care from experts at the Vi Riddell Pain and Rehab Clinic for his migraines.

Alex is followed by neurology and neurosurgery to monitor any progression of his condition through MRIs. While his journey is still ongoing, he loves coming back to the hospital. His visits have been made more fun and more comfortable thanks to programs offered through Child Life Specialists, who through activities from art and music therapy to bingo and movie nights, aim to ease the anxiety that can come with hospitalization. Most recently, Alex has been able to try out the new “mock scanner” available at the hospital thanks to donations from our community to prepare him for his latest MRI. Since its arrival, the mock scanner, which looks and sounds like the real thing, is helping patients feel less nervous about the MRI process and is leading to fewer children needing a general anesthetic to stay calm for their actual scan. For Alex, it has reduced his anxiety for his MRI and the need for him to be sedated.

Cassandra says she is so thankful she and her family live in Calgary, in a community that is so supportive of the hospital, including the mock scanner that has helped him deal with anxiety related to his MRIs. Cassandra’s daughter has also benefitted from the Vein Viewer that was purchased by Radiothon listeners. The family loves the hospital so much that they organize a toy drive each year benefitting kids staying at the hospital over Christmas.

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