Story of Impact


River habilitas


Although we thought we were fairly well-prepared for our first baby, some things you just can’t plan for. Our son River was actually born in the ambulance on the way to the hospital! We’ll never know exactly what happened, but something went wrong just before or around his delivery.

It all happened too fast. Upon arrival at the local hospital with our beautiful new baby boy in our arms, the doctors immediately recognized that things weren’t right. After some tests, they took him away from me almost as quickly as he’d arrived, sending him for another trip via ambulance to the Montreal Children’s Hospital with his dad following close behind in our car.

Only three hours later, still shaky from the unconventional delivery, I got out of my hospital bed and rushed in a taxi to meet him. So many questions were racing through my mind, and I so desperately wanted to protect him and spend his first moments of life snuggled up next me. Instead, River was surrounded by tubes and equipment, and was placed naked in a full-body cooling machine in an effort to maximize blood flow to his brain. I had to watch and wait for four long, heartbreaking days before I was allowed to hold him again.

A slew of examinations revealed that River had suffered significant brain damage, and he was six months old when we received a diagnosis of cerebral palsy. For River, this disorder affects his capacity to control his arms and legs and other muscle function. He doesn’t walk, speak on his own, or do anything independently – but he understands everything and is full of life and character.

With all our love and hope, we were determined to find ways for River to have a happy and rewarding life. We feel so fortunate to have found the MAB-Mackay, where River has benefited from weekly physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy since he was 18 months old. We’ve worked together as a parent-therapist team to enhance his mobility and strength, and to find ways to help him engage with the world around him.

We were delighted when River was accepted in their specialized school program at age four, where therapy services are integrated into the school day. It’s a big weight off our shoulders to know that he is surrounded by so many caring professionals every day. Once River started school, the MAB-Mackay gave him his first wheelchair, custom-built for his needs. Next, his teacher and therapists began working with him on augmentative communication – an approach that has opened him to the world and truly enriched his life.

As his mom, I’d been River’s advocate and voice, fighting to convince people that he is really bright and fully able to understand everything. The specialists at the MAB-Mackay introduced him to the tools to show just how right I had been! 

River and his speech language pathologist Trish

By connecting a special computer to buttons on the headrest of his wheelchair, River can communicate in a way he’d never done before. The voice output feature means that River can actually “speak” to express his feelings and needs, and it also provides insight into his wonderful personality and his great sense of humor.

Although we always knew he had a lot he wanted to say, it’s still amazing for us to hear him tell us in his own words “we go swimming pool and grocery store with Dad” or “I want go to Ottawa visit Pop.”

River is now six and half and in grade one. He’s super sociable, loves interacting with everyone he meets, and has a charming smile that he uses on anyone he can. He loves books, music, playing hide-and-seek, swimming, and doing just about anything silly with his younger sister/best friend Sky (pictured here).

The doors continue to open for River. His team has recently introduced him to a brand new technology that actually tracks his eye movement across a tablet screen to generate speech – the next step on his communication journey.

It’s reassuring to know that there are genuinely dedicated and big-hearted people like our team at the MAB-Mackay, who are committed to providing opportunities for children like River to realize their real potential and participate actively in everyday life.

Anna, River’s proud mom

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