Friday, March 2, 2012

Mom running marathon to celebrate son’s cancer-free diagnosis

By John Bkila

This June, nine-year-old Jacob Stretton will join the number of Canadian children who have been cured of their cancer and his mom is celebrating the news with a charity marathon run in Spain for the cause.

On April 12, 2007, Karen Drexler’s world was turned upside down when her son Jacob, who was born with Down syndrome, was diagnosed with leukemia.

“It was the most devastating day of my life,” Drexler said. “We had gotten several blood tests done before that (his diagnosis), so in a way I was kind of expecting it, but it was still shock.”

According to Canadian Cancer Statistics 2008, around 850 Canadian children between birth and 14 years of age develop cancer each year and about 135 die from the disease. However, over the last 15 years, the five-year survival rate has jumped to nearly 82 per cent, an increase of more than 11 per cent.

Before Jacob was diagnosed, Drexler said she noticed her son was sleeping a lot more and becoming lethargic.

“He was falling asleep at school. He was starting to shut down because he was just so tired, and wasn’t participating in things and that was really unlike him,” she said. “I started thinking it was something to do with Down syndrome, so it was kind of hard to figure out what was going on at first.”

After his diagnosis, Jacob then had to endure three years and two months of chemotherapy treatments and procedures such as X-rays, bone scans, a monthly lumbar puncture, three blood transfusions and countless blood tests.

And now, five years later, he will finally be receiving his cured diagnosis from his doctors on June 12.

“Though you are elated, at the back of your mind, you are also scared and worried,” said Drexler of feelings after her son’s treatments were over.

“Each time he slept in or would have a cough or not want to be active, you were afraid that the cancer was back and not that he was acting like a normal kid — at that point you didn’t know what normal was anymore.”

That is why Drexler says having her son officially cured of cancer means that much to her — it is also one of the reasons why she is running a marathon in Madrid, Spain... 

To read the full story, click here.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Bringing Canadian patient care to Africa

Canadian Nurses for Africa will be heading to poorest areas in Kenya this spring

By John Bkila

Chances are, any nurse will tell you when asked that a few minutes with a patient can make a world of difference — and that’s why in April, several local nurses will be heading to some of the poorest areas in Kenya to help treat patients there.

As part of Canadian Nurses for Africa (CNFA), 12 nurses and one support staff from Oakville, Burlington, Hamilton and beyond will be travelling to Kenya and setting up clinics to help treat those who cannot receive medical attention because of either cost or inaccessibility.

The mission, which leaves April 27, will be CNFA’s fourth.

Among the group heading to Kenya is Jan Baker, an Oakville nurse of 25 years, who is joining the mission for the first time after learning about CFNA from a co-worker last summer and contacting the group’s founder Gail Wolters.

“I have been looking for something like the group Gail has developed for probably 30 years,” said Baker, a Registered Nurse with Halton Healthcare Services and head of patient care for the renal (kidney) program at Oakville-Trafalgar Memorial Hospital. “I looked at different organizations, but they tend to want a huge time commitment — usually 6 months to a year. For me that’s really difficult to uproot and go for a year. I have a family… I don’t want to be away from them for six months. But I still had this yearning, this need to help.”

Though this is Baker’s first mission with CNFA, she’s no stranger to Africa. When she was 18 she volunteered with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and helped work in a hospital clinic and build a school and latrines in West Africa.

Baker said one of the reasons she chose to join CNFA was that it was a nurse-run group.

“To be with a group of like-minded professionals is like being at home for me. And the fact that it’s local nurses… I loved that it would be a community adventure,” she said. “What also drew me to join, I think, was the one-on-one aspect. I know from all my years of nursing that a few minutes with a patient is going to make a difference... to have someone to hear them and teach or give them what it is they need.”

Wolters, who has also worked as an ER nurse at Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital in Burlington, formed CNFA in 2007 after participating in a Stephen Lewis Foundation fundraiser where she met Aggrey, a Kenyan-born Canadian.

“Over a cup of coffee, we dared to dream of doing medical missions to the area of Kenya that he is from, Kakamega/Vihiga,” Wolters said. “Aggrey takes care of the complexity of Kenyan politics...

To read the full story, click here.

Monday, January 30, 2012

United Way Oakville CEO retiring

By John Bkila

Coalescing work with a passion led now retiring United Way of Oakville (UWO) CEO Barbara Burton into the role more than five years ago.

“I’ve been in the corporate world for almost 40 years (as executive director for the Toronto-based Osborne Group) and when the chance came up to join United Way of Oakville, it was a fabulous opportunity for me to bring my corporate experience to the table, but also fulfill my philanthropic side,” Burton said. “I don’t quite call it a calling, but it was an incredible opportunity to mesh the two together.

“I was also well aware if I was going to make a change in my career, this was probably going to be the last opportunity I would have to do so. When you reach 65 (years of age), you don’t have the same energy as before,” she said with a chuckle.

Burton is now retiring from the position as UWO CEO and says the time is right to do so.

“This last campaign was my sixth (with United Way of Oakville) and it is a very stressful environment and I’m 65,” she said. “I decided that in order for the organization to continue to grow and reach new heights, it really needed new leadership.”

A retirement celebration open house in Burton’s honour is planned for this Thursday, Feb. 2 at Cucci Restaurant, 119 Jones St. from 4-6 p.m.

Those wishing to attend can contact Samantha Dean at 905-845-5571, ext. 221.

Although working as UWO’s CEO was Burton’s first job with the organization, she’s been no stranger to the non-profit world as a volunteer.

Burton volunteered with the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) for 20 years and sat on the board for Halton Healthcare Services (HHS) for 12 years, chairing it for two of those years.

Of her four decades of corporate work experience, Burton said becoming CEO of a non-profit in 2005-06 was “definitely the most challenging position” she’s ever held.

“Working for non-profits… you don’t have the same budgets (as in the corporate world), the same cash flow; you rely very heavily on volunteers, and (you find) you’re constantly defending what you do… and yet we’re here to help, we’re here to support,” Burton said.

“The second biggest challenge was to get the community involved in United Way, to have them become aware of the needs in their own community.”

She says this was a particular challenge, as there is a notion that Oakville’s roads are “paved with gold.”

“People don’t think there are needs here, so it was a real process to educate and to inform the residents of Oakville that we have issues that need support just like any other city,” said Burton, admitting that starting with an empty bank account each year was particularly stressful.

When asked what she found were Oakville’s particular needs, Burton said it was...

To read the full story, click here.