Meet Kelsey: Looking back on a childhood at the Queen Alexandra Centre for Children’s Health

Kelsey Highsted photo

For born and raised Islander Kelsey, her innate passion for giving back is rooted in her early childhood experiences. As a professional working full-time in the child, family, and community health sector, a para-equestrian who was a gold and silver medalist at the 2018 BC Summer Games, and an avid cyclist, Kelsey’s complex needs have not held her back from pursuing her goals.

When she wasn’t reaching developmental milestones at a typical rate as a young toddler, her parents were referred to Queen Alexandra Centre for Children’s Health (QA), funded in part by Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island. At QA, specialists confirmed her pediatrician’s diagnosis of cerebral palsy. Early intervention began right away in the Infant Development Program.

Kelsey’s subsequent enrollment in Pearkes’ early intervention preschool program meant that she was able to receive physiotherapy and occupational therapy as part of her daily routine at school while learning alongside her classmates. When she turned five, she entered the public school system.

Foundation-funded programs at QA enriched Kelsey’s early years, including the QA Summer Camps, which she grew up attending and later continued her involvement as a volunteer. And thanks to the Foundation’s funding of a gait analysis unit at QA’s Fisher Building, Kelsey was able to receive a gait analysis as well as customized casts and orthotics.

One of the highlights of her high school education was joining the Youth Advisory Council, an initiative run by the Foundation, through which she worked with a team of students to plan conferences, fundraise for QA, and review community grants. She fondly remembers the opportunity it gave her to raise awareness about the realities of day-to-day life for children and youth with complex needs.

“In my opinion, every disability is a spectrum. Having a physical disability can be tough because people automatically assume that you can’t do certain things because they can see that you’re different,” says Kelsey. “It’s important to take the extra steps to understand what’s going on for someone, and that can make a huge difference in making things accessible for people.”

QA meant the world to Kelsey and her parents while they navigated the health care system as she grew up. Her care team of doctors and therapists were always happy to answer any questions they had, and the family was able to bring home specialized physio equipment that would support her ongoing development.

“My parents really appreciated our team because they had no idea what cerebral palsy was and the impact of what that was going to mean for my life,” recalls Kelsey. “That’s one of the major things that Children’s Health Foundation does for families. It gives them someone to look to for help, because it can be pretty scary to be diagnosed with a disability and not know what the future holds, especially for families.”

Kelsey credits her experiences at QA and her involvement in the Youth Advisory Council by setting her upon her career path of supporting families with children with complex needs. Currently working at the Clements Centre in Duncan, she often speaks with parents who have a little one with cerebral palsy to give them an idea of what their child can grow up to achieve.

“I hope my story gives hope to families with children with complex needs. Many people assume that people with complex needs don’t really have a future but having a disability does not mean that you cannot live independently and be a vibrant force in the community and workforce. QA helped me find my independence,” says Kelsey.

Thanks to the generosity of our donors, QA’s programs support the early intervention and therapeutic needs of more than 4,000 Island kids and their families every year. Your gift to the Kids First Fund will help children and youth with complex needs like Kelsey to grow up to pursue their dreams.