Chris Wilson couldn’t imagine calling any other place home

Born and raised here in Wood Buffalo, Chris Wilson couldn’t imagine calling any other place home. Chris was born at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre and has always felt a connection to the hospital especially after a very traumatic incident that took place when he was a teen.

Growing up, Chris loved being outdoors but when he was 14 the unexpected and unimaginable happened. In 1989, Chris was in a hunting accident where he suffered an accidental gunshot wound to the chest. The bullet had travelled through his shoulder and downwards to his chest, sitting in front of his heart. Chris was taken to the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre where nurses and surgeons were able to stabilize him and prep him to be transported to another facility south of Fort McMurray.

“Because of the quick and professional treatment I received at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre, I was stabilized and transferred to receive care from a facility in Edmonton. Without the surgeons and nurses that stabilized me, I might not be sitting here today,” Chris says.

After recovering from the accident, Chris returned home and began to lead a normal life. He became a heavy-duty mechanic for 11 years with Syncrude Canada and went on to co-found Birch Mountain Enterprises (BME) in 2005. Chris is an active member in the community; he believes that giving back to the community is his way of saying thank-you.

“Both of my kids were born here, I was born here, my mom and dad have received care in this hospital, it means a lot to me to be able to give back.”

Birch Mountain Enterprises has been a sponsor for the Northern Lights Festival of Trees Gala for numerous years, and most recently BME donated $250,000 to the Northern Lights Health Foundation’s Gratitude Campaign.

When Chris heard about the projects within the Campaign he knew that he wanted to be involved. Chris’ mother has been battling with stomach hernias for years. She can no longer have surgery because there is a lack of stomach muscle from where the surgeries had been performed. With Minimally Invasive Surgical technology, the instruments that are used can reach nearly every part of the human body. With this technology, surgeries to remove hernias are less invasive and there would be a quicker recovery time for patients. This is the part that hit close to home with Chris.

“I told my mother that I had made the donation to the MIS Suites and had explained to her how people would benefit from having smaller incisions with this new technology and she hugged me and told me how proud she was of me. She said, “Knowing the pain that I went through and knowing that other people won’t have to go through that makes me very happy.”

Chris understands how this world class technology will help people that are in similar situations like his mother and he is happy knowing that having MIS technology locally will be such a relief for people in the community. “To be able to get that kind of medical care here and knowing that recovery will be a lot easier for people, brings me happiness, knowing that I can help people in my community.”

The Northern Lights Health Foundation would like to extend a very heartfelt thank you to Chris Wilson and Birch Mountain Enterprises for supporting the Gratitude Campaign and also having such a wonderful impact on the community of Wood Buffalo.

With your support, the Northern Lights Health Foundation funds vital health care needs in Wood Buffalo. Support community health care close to home.


Golfing for Charity

Summer months in Northern Alberta are lived out to their fullest as we know the cold winter days creep up all too quickly. In Fort McMurray, summer is full of floating down the Snye River, hiking the Birchwood Trails, late sunsets, outdoor patios and of course, golf. The Canadian Institute of Mining Metallurgy and Petroleum (CIM) Oil Sands Chapter has been a proud supporter of the Northern Lights Health Foundation for a number of years.

Each year the CIM Golf Tournament raises funds to support local health care programs and services. In 2016 the tournament raised an incredible amount of $31,535 which went towards the purchase of a bronchoscope for the Respiratory Therapy Department of the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre.

The bronchoscope is necessary for several procedures including a test called a bronchoscopy, which allows physicians to examine a patient’s airways. Physicians use this procedure to diagnose many lung-related conditions including various diseases, tumors, infections and chronic cough.

“We extend a heartfelt thanks to the CIM for their generous and ongoing support of health care in our region. Their support towards the health and wellness of our community is outstanding,” says Cindy Amerongen, Executive Director of the Northern Lights Health Foundation. “CIM’s gift towards a bronchoscope for Respiratory Therapy will make a tremendous difference in the lives of patients needing care for their lungs post-wildfire.”

“The CIM appreciated the work of our local hospital and everything they did during our crisis. We are proud to support their efforts during very tough times helping our community,” said David Wallace of the CIM.

The Northern Lights Health Foundation Board and Staff would like to thank everyone who made this gift possible. The Health Foundation invites anyone who is interested in hosting a third party fundraiser in support of the Health Foundation to contact our office.

With your support, the Northern Lights Health Foundation funds vital health care needs in Wood Buffalo. Support community health care close to home.


The message behind the quilts was an expression of the “sisterhood of nurses.”

The ComFORT Quilt Project was started by Marjorie Neill from Nova Scotia. Neill and fellow nurses were devastated by the images they saw on the news when a wildfire engulfed our city in May 2016.

Neill knew that she wanted to help, one way or another. She knew what the nurses of Fort McMurray were up against. Working in a hospital for many years, Neill understands the protocols of evacuating the patients to safety.

There was no opportunity for the nurses of the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre to go home and evacuate with their loved ones, they worked hard and managed to evacuate 73 patients and 32 continuing care clients to safety.

The decision to help the nurses in Fort McMurray was an easy one, they had gone through such a chaotic time and one way that Neill and her group of nurses decided they could help was to create quilts. Neill’s group of nurses began sewing quilts, created of gently used nurse scrubs and material donated by dozens of other Nova Scotia nurses and doctors with each one including a strip of the Nova Scotia tartan. The message behind the quilts was an expression of the “sisterhood of nurses.”

The quilts were shipped mostly from Halifax to Fort McMurray free of charge by Hoyts Moving & Storage Ltd., after two employees from Nova Scotia Trucking Safety Association heard of the initiative and decided to join the project. A draw was held at the NLRHC for the 60 handcrafted quilts and a feeling of comfort was felt throughout the event as the nurses came together, reminisced and felt the embrace from their sisterhood across the country. Neill plans to send another 40 quilts to Fort McMurray by October which would make a total of 100 beautiful handcrafted quilts so that every nurse will remember that distance is not a factor for the “sisterhood of nurses.”

With your support, the Northern Lights Health Foundation funds vital health care needs in Wood Buffalo. Support community health care close to home.


Focus on Community

Fort McMurray is home to residents from all over Canada and the world with many different religions, beliefs and traditions; but when there is a need or a cry for help, the residents of Wood Buffalo come together as one to help. In the 2016 May wildfire we saw strangers helping one another get to safety, we saw people opening up their homes to families who had lost everything. Though we may not all come from the same city, province or country we have the same heart. It’s a heart filled with generosity, compassion, selflessness and resilience.

Each year the residents of Wood Buffalo support local charities, fundraisers and school initiatives without a second thought. This year, the Fort McMurray Islamic School (FMIS) and Markaz-Ul-Islam wanted to make a difference to an organization in the community and decided to run a Toy Drive for the children who were at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre (NLRHC).

The FMIS provides Alberta Curriculum taught from an Islamic perspective by Alberta Certified Teachers. Quran and Islamic Studies are taught as a subject area and Islamic principles are evident in all other subject areas. In 2005 FMIS joined the Fort McMurray Public School Board as an alternative program.

Muslims have a tradition of fasting from sunrise to sunset when the Islamic calendar follows the lunar calendar, this is called Ramadan. Sara Eweida an employee at the FMIS talks about the meaning of the traditional fasting, “Ramadan is a time to reflect on life, give to charity, and correct bad habits and to appreciate life’s blessings. It is a time to think of the less fortunate and reconnect with our faith.”

Each year the FMIS and Markaz-Ul-Islam make it their mission to help different organizations in any way they can and supporting the NLRHC has been in the works for quite some time. “I have worked at FMIS for many years and know that when a child is not feeling well, a toy can be a significant source of consolation. Ramadan is a time for spiritual reflection and charity, giving back to the community is self-evident and who better than to our tiniest community members.”

The FMIS and Markaz-Ul-Islam collected toys for children of all ages during Ramadan. They also raised $2,500 towards the Gratitude Campaign. “The FMIS and Markaz-Ul-Islam would be very happy to continue supporting the Northern Lights Health Foundation in this way! Donating to local health care is important because, as human beings, we need to support one another in our time of need. If something we can do gives happiness and consolation to another person, it is a privilege to be able to help.”

The Northern Lights Health Foundation is honored and thankful to have donors such as the FMIS and Markaz-Ul-Islam.

With your support, the Northern Lights Health Foundation funds vital health care needs in Wood Buffalo. Support community health care close to home.


A letter to recognize fantastic help and care from compassionate staff

Gamela Jarkas will always be remembered by her family, friends and colleagues for her kind and generous nature.

Noor Asiff, Gamela’s older sister recalls the way her sister had an impact on the people she knew, “everyone that knew my sister loved her. If you were to talk to anyone at her work, they all had a lot of respect for her. She was just that type of person. She was giving. She listened. She just always had that kind of generous heart and was a real giving person.”

Gamela was diagnosed with Dermatomyositis in June of 2015. Her illness was an uncommon inflammatory disease which weakens the muscles in the body. Gamela lost 90% of her mobility virtually overnight.

While receiving care in Edmonton, Gamela was diagnosed with stage three lymphatic cancer. Following her diagnosis, she was transferred to the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre (NLRHC) where she would undergo chemotherapy. A resident of Fort McMurray for almost 40 years, Noor says Gamela was relieved to hear she would be going back to the NLRHC. “She was incredibly happy to be going back to the Northern Lights, where she would be cared for in her home community.”

Gamela’s immune system was unable to handle the first round of Chemo, which resulted in a three-week stay in ICU. “With the fabulous care of the very professional nurses and doctors, Gamela pulled through and was airlifted to the Royal Alexandra ICU for further treatment,” Noor recalls.

After another 20 days, Gamela was well enough to return to the NLRHC where she began physiotherapy with one goal in mind, to go home.

She did get to go home but unfortunately after a few weeks, Gamela became ill again and was readmitted to the Health Centre. “She was again, treated with dignity and respect from all the staff-from the nurses who spent time trying to make her as comfortable as possible, to the doctor who very sensitively told us there was little more they could do for her while comforting our family with the knowledge that Gamela was not in pain.”

“I feel I need to tell you just how wonderful your staff is. Our sister, wife and aunt, Gamela spent several months at the NLRHC in Fort McMurray and I truthfully could not speak highly enough of the care and compassion she received from emergency staff, ICU nurses, the unbelievably upbeat Physio Team, the nurses in acute care and the doctors.”

Gamela was touched by their compassion and made a generous donation to the Northern Lights Health Foundation in honour of the Medicine, Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy teams who treated her.

After a challenging battle with cancer, Gamela passed away, peacefully in February 2016 surrounded by her loved ones.

“Without the fantastic help and care of the very committed and devoted staff, I feel we would not have been able to manage. We thank them from the bottom of our hearts for their care. Our lives have forever been touched by everyone at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre who cared for Gamela and our family during some of the most difficult times of our lives.”

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Speaking Up

For Sandra Gomez’s two and a half year old son, Anthony, speech and language therapy has been instrumental to his childhood development.

Born with autism, Anthony was having difficulty speaking and paying attention. Through the use of speech and language therapies at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre, Sandra says Anthony’s eye contact is improving; he’s engaging with people more; and he’s beginning to babble, make noises, and say a couple of words.

“Speech (and language) therapy has helped Anthony, not only verbally, but his social skills and eye contact have also improved dramatically during the sessions. He enjoys it very much,” she says.

Speech and Language Pathologists diagnose and evaluate a variety of speech and language conditions, such as developmental language, articulation, stuttering and aphasia.

According to Monica McKenna, a Speech and Language Pathologist at the Health Centre, speech and language therapy is a dynamic practice that works with individuals of all ages and conditions.

“We work with both adults and pediatrics [children], so each day is different. If it’s an adult day, I would be receiving referrals from the doctors, so we can work directly with patients and residents within the hospital. We do mainly swallowing or communications assessments, and we do additional therapies as needed,” says McKenna. “If it was a pediatrics day, I would have booked appointments, where we meet with the client and their family, and complete the goals in session, talk to the family about the progress and provide exercises to do at home.”

In addition to providing services within the Health Centre, McKenna shares that they also provide services in the schools.

“We offer classroom, group and individual services. We’re kind of everywhere!” she says.

As part of working closely with children, McKenna says they rely a lot on play-based therapy.

“Our therapy is very dependent on reinforcing, motivating toys,” says McKenna. “A lot of our therapy is play based especially with young kids. We get right on the floor, involve toys and play, and for children, play is their work. That’s how they learn, so we need toys to facilitate that.”

Unfortunately, due to the May 2016 wildfire, the Speech and Language Pathology team needed to discard all of their toys and materials.

“We have two storage rooms that we contain everything in – books, puzzles, bubbles, games, toys – and they were all gone. We needed to start from scratch and reorder everything,” says McKenna. “That ultimately delayed our service delivery because we couldn’t start seeing patients until we had basic toys and materials to use.”

Thanks to the generous support of the local McDonald’s restaurants and their McHappy Day annual fundraiser, the Health Foundation received significant funds to purchase new toys and materials for Allied Health Services, such as Speech and Language Pathology, to serve their youngest patients.

“A big thank you! We are so appreciative. We are so grateful that we were able to receive their funds. It has been phenomenal,” says McKenna. “This is one of the best stocked places I’ve ever worked because of the abundance of donations and funds to purchase awesome materials to support care for our patients.”

With your support, the Northern Lights Health Foundation funds vital health care needs in Wood Buffalo. Support community health care close to home.