Four years ago, Ali Perreault stood on Nanaimo’s Visiting Vessel Pier with her four-year-old daughter, Emma Price, waiting for a Canadian Coast Guard crew to load her sick daughter onto a hovercraft.
The fog was like a blanket resting over the city that November evening, and the medevac helicopter could not airlift the pair from Nanaimo Regional General Hospital to B.C. Children’s Hospital, so the Coast Guard vessel came over.
Price, who had been recently diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, was receiving a platelet transfusion as she was wheeled from the ambulance down to the pier, with her mother by her side.
“I realized the severity of the situation when I stepped off the ramp and saw seven men and two ambulance attendants waiting to take my little girl,” said Perreault. “It made reality hit hard. She was dying and she was dying rapidly.”
Four years later, Price is now a cancer-free, energetic eight-year-old with a wide smile and a bounce in her step.
To leave the cancer aspect of their lives behind, the family returned to the beginning – that gloomy journey across the Georgia Strait in November 2007 – on Friday.
The coast guard hovercraft from Vancouver met Perreault, her three children and family friends on the pier and Price and her mother were reunited with three of the coast guard members who had whisked the pair to Vancouver years ago.
“This is where we started, with the coast guards, and this is where we’re ending it,” said Perreault. “I just kind of want the end story to be she’s healthy.”
Once at B.C. Children’s Hospital, Price endured countless injections and drug therapies to rid her body of the leukemia.
Her treatment included two and a half years of intense chemotherapy, steroids and a variety of intrusive, painful procedures – 126 intra-muscular injections in her legs, 30 spinal taps and five bone marrow biopsies.
The family almost lost her a couple of times.
The treatments ended last year and Price now goes back to the hospital every three months for blood work.
As the hovercraft docked at the Visiting Vessel Pier, Price jumped up and down excitedly and her mother burst into tears.
“Everything is just rushing back,” said Perreault.
Craig Rackham, the hovercraft’s captain, who was on duty the night Price needed the trip to Vancouver, said it is a nice treat for the crew to see a happy ending from one of their missions. The crew co-ordinated the visit with Price with a training exercise off Snake Island.
“She was a very sick little girl when she came on board and to see her now full of life and energetic is fantastic,” he said.
Bosun Kelly Alendal remembers the ashen-faced four-year-old with all of the tubes and wires sticking out of her looked scared until her co-worker, rescue specialist Roy Klohn, handed her a teddy bear.
“The smile on her face was just tremendous,” said Klohn, as he watched Emma run around in her new coast guard T-Shirt.
Perreault, who has two other girls, aged 13 and 15, said the whole experience has given her a renewed appreciation for her family.