With my days as a corporate CEO behind me, my life’s purpose is now the safety, security and social well-being of hospitalized kids.
My involvement with the health of hospitalized kids started in 2002 when my daughter, Christina, nearly died from Toxic Shock Syndrome. It happened on Valentines Day that year. She fell critically ill quite suddenly and was rushed to McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton where she stayed for ten days, seven in intensive care. As a parent all you want to know is if she’s going to live and all the doctor could tell us was ‘we don’t know yet.’
Through that experience with Christina and sadly again in 2004 when her close friend, Katy McDonald, fell ill and later died of cancer, I learned a lot about the isolation that kids experience when they are hospitalized. Today, there are many ways in which kids can communicate with each other, sharing personal information, with little thought whether it’s safe to do so. With social networking everywhere the issue for me is how we make it possible for hospitalized kids to stay connected and be safe.
After Christina’s recovery, I wanted to do more and so I founded Kids’ Health Links Foundation. Around the same time, we formed a partnership with TELUS that led to the creation of Upopolis. This is a safe, secure, private social network that keeps hospitalized kids connected to their friends and family, their school and other sick children who are sharing similar experiences.
Here’s just one example of why keeping our hospitalized kids socially connected matters so much. While volunteering on a building project in Haiti, a young man had a life altering accident. He sustained a spinal cord injury after falling from a roof and physically became fully dependent on others. He returned to Canada where his rehabilitation lasted 11 months, during which he was two hours away from friends and family. He became isolated and withdrawn. Upopolis and some specialized equipment changed his rehab stay overnight. He could talk to his friends and family without others having to type for him. He finally started to talk about his accident and his feelings as he learned that he would never walk again. He was also able to connect to other teens with spinal cord injuries. This peer support turned his life around. Today he plays on the national under-23 wheelchair basketball team with teens and young adults with similar injuries.
Today, Upopolis can be found at:
- The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), Toronto, ON
- Lutherwood Children’s Mental Health Center, Kitchener-Waterloo, ON
- McMaster Children’s Hospital, Hamilton, ON
- IWK Health Care Centre, Halifax, NS
- BC Children’s Hospital, Vancouver, BC
- Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, Ottawa, ON
- Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, Toronto, ON
- Ste-Justine University Hospital Centre, Montreal, QC
- Children’s Hospital London Health Sciences Centre, London, ON
- Emily’s House hospice in Toronto, ON
In 2014 Upopolis will be implemented in 3 centres in Newfoundland and Labrador:
- Eastern Health Center for Youth Mental Health and Addictions, Paradise
- Central Health Center for Youth Mental Health and Addictions, Grand Falls-Windsor
- Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre, St. John’s
Keeping our hospitalized kids socially connected is an important therapeutic tool. Helping to make that happen safely and securely is a mission I feel privileged to lead.
Basile Papaevangelou is Chairman and Founder of Kids’ Health Links Foundation.