Five years ago, a couple from Pansy, Man. took their first steps to grow their family, when they boarded a plane for eastern Europe. Little did they know that just three years later they'd return to the little Ukrainian orphanage and claim eight more children as their own.
Rob and Sharon Steeves made their first trip to Ukraine in 2016. It was then that they adopted their first three children. However, after seeing the friends their children were leaving behind, the couple knew they would be making another visit to the orphanage, which is what they did in 2019. Growing their family by another eight children, all from one family. Their lives would be forever changed.
It was during their second visit to Ukraine, that the global pandemic's restrictions tested their faith and grew their trust in humankind. With the help of the Canadian Embassy in Kyiv, they were able to safely bring this newly expanded family to Canada. As with any new addition to one's family, there are always expected changes and challenges. But what these new parents weren’t expecting were the health challenges and medical expenses that came with their new family members, and now seemed to be taking over their lives.
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Sharon says that immediately after they had finished the required quarantine period after returning from Ukraine with eight newly adopted children, they had blood work done on all the kids. It was here that the doctors realized that their 11-year-old daughter, Fallon was very sick,
“In the middle of May 2020, we got a phone call to take Fallon into the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) of Health Science Centre. She immediately had surgery to have a catheter put in her neck so she could have dialysis at the hospital. Her blood results were pretty awful. She was in end-stage kidney failure, which none of us knew.”
Then, during their five-week stay at the HSC last year, Fallon nearly died from Sepsis. Steeves says, Fallon got an infection in her hemodialysis line. “We weren't sure if she would make it or not. But thankfully she recovered and now we are home. We got home in June and Rob and I do dialysis with her every single night for 10 hours.”
For many, being hooked up to a machine for 10 hours doesn’t sound very productive, but the Steeves discovered that it was best to do the dialysis while Fallon was sleeping.
“We hook her up about 8:30 at night. Now she has Peritoneal Dialysis. I think the type that they have to go to Winnipeg is Hemodialysis. Which does the same job but the Peritoneal Dialysis means that fluid goes into her abdominal cavity. It sits there for about 40 minutes and it's drained off again. So she gets about 20 litres of fluid pumped into her abdominal cavity 10 cycles during the night, total amount is almost 20 litres.”
While Fallon’s health has been a challenge, it’s the cost of the medications that is starting to take its toll on the family budget,
“Fallon takes 17 pills a day and she's only 12 years old. That's a lot for a little girl. Up till I think about a month ago she was taking 23 pills a day, but her Nephrologist has cut back on some of those meds which is, uh, which is fantastic. But those pills that she takes are very expensive.”
Sharon says that Fallon was on a kidney transplant list but then needed to be taken off because she took a COVID vaccine. Then she was put back on the list again, however, an hour later she was taken off because her hemoglobin was still too low. “But we hope to have her back on the list. Uhm, in about 2 weeks' time.”
Sharon says though Fallon’s medication is very costly, each of the other children have their own expenses.
“We also have Connor, from our first adoption. He's on 2 medications for ADHD and Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. Patrick, our baby, he is now 7, he has ADHD, Global Developmental Delay and he's waiting to be seen by the FASD clinic. He's on medication as well for behaviour issues and to calm his mind because he finds it very difficult to focus.”
On a GoFundMe page set up for the Steeves family, it also mentions 8-year-old Meara, who needs an aortic valve replaced by age 13.
All these medications are starting to add up for the Steeves family budget. Sharon says they currently pay over $500 every month in medication alone and that even with their personal insurance, they can’t keep up and are now paying the full amount for the much-needed medicine for their children.
The Steeves parents feel they would not have made it through these past five years, were it not for the community surrounding them. They say the cost of raising 11 children as well as dealing with their medical expenses would have put much more of a strain on the family were it not for their friends’ support.
Alyson Loewen, one such friend recently started a GoFundMe page, with a goal of raising $7,000 to help with medical expenses.
Sharon says, “(Alyson) has done so much and for our second adoption, Rob and I used all of our savings to make a family for these kids and we have no regrets about doing that. But now we have all these unexpected financial expenses with medication that, you know, we're not complaining about. We are super thankful. We are super thankful for everybody who's helped. Super thankful for the kids, for our jobs, for everything but it is an ongoing expense”.
To make a donation to help the Steeves family check out their GoFundMe page.
Written by Adi Loewen and Corny Rempel.