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Group’s aim: To help sick children

Little Baby Q was born at about 28 weeks, weighing one pound and 14 ounces.

Mom and Dad lived in the East Kootenay, but Baby Q needed the support at Calgary's neonatal intensive care unit at Foothills Hospital.

For the next three months, Baby Q stayed at Foothills. During that time, her mom stayed at Ronald McDonald House, while Dad travelled back and forth from Calgary to the East Kootenay to continue working.

When Baby Q was finally able to come home, she still weighed only four pounds three ounces. She will continue to need visits to Calgary until she turns five.

The new East Kootenay organization Friends of Children supported Baby Q and her parents during those long months of worry, stress, displacement and separation.

Friends of Children, which opened its East Kootenay office in Cranbrook in October 2012, supports families whose children need medical care out of town by covering the cost of accommodation, gas, and parking. It helps with medical issues including cancer treatment, premature birth and severe injuries.

"The cost of it is the biggest one, and then where do you stay," said coordinator Pat Chisholm. "Often moms are left and dads have to go back and continue on, or you have these families where it's a third baby and somebody has to keep looking after the other children and working.

"It gets very complicated for families, both cost wise but also socially and emotionally."

So far this year, Friends of Children has approved 123 family requests for assistance with expenditures, reaching $25,045.

The majority of sick kids in the East Kootenay are sent to Calgary for treatment. In 2011 and 2012, East Kootenay children attended 1,334 medical appointments in Alberta. About 114 of those visits were for hospital admission. By contrast, 14 children from the region were admitted to B.C. Children's Hospital in Vancouver during that time.

The average cost of a family's trip to Calgary for a one-day medical appointment is $335, including gas, parking and motel.

Friends of Children began as a non-profit serving the Prince George area. But in 2009, Cranbrook resident Gail Brown approached the organization about offering its services in the East Kootenay.

"Gail talked to them about developing a satellite service for the East Kootenay that would be in line with what they did because she felt what they did was so important and would benefit the children in our region because there are very similar needs," said Chisholm.

The East Kootenay branch has been serving local families since 2009, but just last year opened an office in Cranbrook's Kootenay Child Development Centre and brought Chisholm on staff to manage the family support.

While the office is in Cranbrook, Friends of Children serves the entire region.

"We have children on our caseload from Elkford, Sparwood, Creston, the east side of Kootenay Lake, all the way to Golden," said Chisholm.

She deals one-on-one with families, forwarding their needs to a dispersal committee that allots the funding. Before the trip, Chisholm will arrange accommodation for the family at their destination.

"We book them ourselves because then families don't have to worry about that," said Chisholm. "Not having to phone a motel, not having to figure out where the best rate is today... those are some tangible things that take the load off families."

Friends of Children will also reimburse for gas. For anything the organization can't help with, Chisholm can refer the family to another organization.

"Once people start knowing where to go and what to do, that starts to immediately decrease some of those anxieties," she said.

Friends of Children cannot help with ongoing therapies and intervention services, flights or dental appointments. They cover costs related to appointments anywhere outside the region, be it Calgary, Vancouver, Kelowna or elsewhere.

"For the most part, anything that people ask for we do try to accommodate that or find alternate ways to fund that if we can't," said Chisholm.

Most of Friends of Children's expenses depend upon donations from the public. Costs for one family alone can get up to $10,000.

To make a contribution to Friends of Children, visit www.friendsofchildren.ca, or send a cheque payable to Friends of Children (EK) to #208 16-12th Avenue North, Cranbrook, V1C 3V7.

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