The greatest holiday gift – being together

When you nearly lose a child to illness your outlook on the holidays changes dramatically. 

Just ask Sunita Mate. 

While most families are sharing gifts, good food and good company, Sunita’s family will be spending the holidays at Holland Bloorview, truly thankful that their daughter, Nupur, is alive.

This February, 12-year-old Nupur came to Sunita complaining of a headache. She also had a fever. Sunita and her husband thought she had the flu. 

But she wasn’t getting better, she was getting worse. Little did they know a bacterial infection was quickly spreading through her body. 

They went back and forth to the hospital, and on their third visit, Nupur’s heart stopped and she had to be resuscitated. It didn’t seem real. 

During the resuscitation, Sunita actually overheard a nurse say, “she’s dead”, which almost caused her heart to stop too. But Nupur pulled through and was on life support for a week. 

Drastic life-saving measures

To stop the infection from killing her, doctors had no choice but to amputate Nupur’s left arm above the elbow and her right leg above the knee. 

The sadness Sunita and her husband felt was unspeakable. 

The operation took place March 10th, a day Sunita will never forget. She remembers being frozen with fear before entering her room. Seeing her for the first time, she was a wreck, but Nupur was surprisingly calm and so brave. 

After the surgery, the family came to Holland Bloorview where Nupur is working hard to complete her intensive rehabilitation. 

“You should see how much fun this hospital is. That’s right, I said fun,” said Sunita, who took a leave from her job to stay at the hospital and be with Nupur every day. 

On top of the outstanding medical care, once a month Nupur enjoys a “movie night.” The kids gather in the hospital’s conference room, pick a movie, enjoy pizza and just feel like kids. 

Tuesday night is “pet night” where neighbourhood volunteers bring in their dogs. It’s a frenzy of giggles, happiness and wagging tails. 

And every now and then she’ll get a visit from Dr. Flap and Nurse Flutter, the therapeutic clowns who provide warmth and laughter and break the tension in some of the toughest situations.  

Sunita believes the joy these activities create is as important as her treatment. 

Fun + physio = progress

At the same time, Nupur is getting stronger every day with physiotherapy. She’s been working with the hospital’s prosthetic team and just had her first fitting for an arm prosthetic.

In fact, she’s going get her arm prosthetic any day now and her leg prosthetic will arrive soon too. 

Still, Nupur has her dark moods and breakdowns. 

Before her illness, she took pride in doing everything herself, like making her own breakfast and packing her own lunch for school. Adjusting to her new reality, there are times she’s so frustrated. She knows it will be difficult, but eventually she’ll learn how to do these things again. 

A familiar phrase gives hope

Every parent associates certain phrases with their child and for Sunita that was hearing, “I can do it!” 

Thankfully, she’s starting to hear those words again. 

Nupur may have lost an arm and a leg, but she hasn’t lost her spirit.

And now, Nupur is in the holiday spirit. Their family doesn’t really celebrate Christmas as most of their extended family is back in India.  But Nupur loves Christmas so much Sunita gets her a little decorated tree and a few gifts every year. 

Nupur has already told her mom what she wants, but Sunita doesn’t think Santa will be bringing her a puppy. 

“What Nupur really wants is to get back home, back to school, back to her friends and back to her life, though it’s going to be very different,” said Sunita.

The road ahead is a long one. When the family moves back home in February there will be so much adjustment. 

Navigating the house with her new prosthetics, seeing family and friends for the first time since her illness, Sunita knows it will be hard for Nupur. 

But those challenges are in the future. For now, this is one family who is immeasurably grateful that they are together for the holidays – even in a hospital.