October 2, 2018
Story & photo by Vanessa Gomez
EDMONTON — When a child lives with chronic illness with no known cure, waves of anxiety and uncertainty often wash over their family as they search for answers. Staff at Stollery Children’s Hospital do their utmost to create an environment that promotes healing and lessens anxiety.
The Pediatric Clinical Investigations Unit (CIU) here does likewise to support courageous patients like Cassandra Helberg, 11, who’s been coming to the CIU since May of 2018 to volunteer her time and participate in a study on chronic childhood illnesses.
Her bravery and selflessness is helping researchers change the lives of others for the better.
“The first visit, I wasn’t quite sure,” says Cassandra. “But when they put the numbing cream on me and put the first needle in I was like, ‘this feels like nothing!’ — and I wanted to continue.”
Essentially, the CIU offers a research station for physicians and investigators involved in clinical drug trials and other research. The unit provides physicians with the high-level nursing care required for the duration of their patients’ stay. Registered nurses, such as Jennifer Matthews, feel comfortable working in such a nurse-driven environment, with plenty of knowledge and experience behind them to support research protocols.
While research and trials are important elements in advancing healthcare, Matthews wants people to know that the youthful patients are the ones who are in charge here.
“We always tell kids, ‘You’re the boss.’ We work really closely with them to ensure they feel empowered in their healthcare,” says Matthews. “The kids that come here are coming out of the goodness of their heart to make lives better for other children.”
Isabelle Helberg, Cassandra’s mother, adds: “Right from the beginning we knew everyone was doing what they could to make sure we were as comfortable as possible. Before the trial, things were already great and they prepared us for all the anxieties we had. It made my life easier.”
When in hospital, Cassandra finds herself surrounded by a great group of friends and family who support her journey at the Stollery. She also credits her Child Life Specialist, Kim, for making her visits to the CIU easier.
The Child Life Program offers a safe space for children to help them better cope with being in hospital and provides engaging activities for patients.
For her part, Cassandra has enjoyed “slime making” and movies during her time in CIU.
“It might sound weird that I enjoy coming here, but it’s not just needles,” says Cassandra. “They make it fun and you don’t have to be scared to come here.”