Meet Liv and Asta Mai: How Jeneece Place became a home away from home for this Tofino family

Bear Essentials - Island Kids First - Bruhwiler Family

When Tofino couple Francis and Hanne made the journey to Nanaimo for a routine midwife appointment, the last thing they were expecting was to meet their baby girl that same day. After being quickly sent to Victoria, their first child, Liv, was born at 35 weeks.

Hanne was the first to notice that their baby girl, Liv, had Down Syndrome, something that had not been identified during her pregnancy. Because of this and her premature birth, Liv was transferred to the NICU, where she would stay for four weeks.

Finding a home away from home
While medical teams took care of Liv and ran tests to ensure she didn’t have any health concerns that typically accompany Down Syndrome, such as heart defects, low muscle tone, and hearing issues, Francis and Hanne were overjoyed to learn that there was a room for them at Jeneece Place.

Hanne remembers, “Jeneece Place saved us. The hardest part was to leave the hospital without our baby. We quickly felt at home, and it truly was the best place to be.”

After a particularly hard day in the NICU, “I remember Christina saying, ‘Do you want to go shopping?’ I was confused until she showed me two bags of knit blankets and clothes brought in by volunteers. We sat and looked through all the blankets and I picked a couple blankets for Liv. I still have those blankets – I’ll never forget that.”

Returning to Jeneece Place
When Hanne was pregnant with their second child two years later, she received a diagnosis of intrauterine growth restriction, meaning her pregnancy was considered high-risk. The couple was eventually sent to Victoria for closer monitoring. When Hanne delivered their second daughter six days later, they were thrilled to find out that the home away from home would be able to welcome them again.

Hanne remembers, “when we walked up to Jeneece Place, it was very emotional. I started crying because it just felt so safe for us.”
Baby Asta Mai was born prematurely at only 34 weeks, meaning she had to stay in the NICU to be monitored by her medical team. Being so close to the hospital was especially meaningful for the family.

“Jeneece Place is more than just having a room. It’s the emotional piece of being close to your child. When your child is in the NICU, I can’t even imagine staying in a hotel and having to drive to the hospital every two to three hours. Jeneece Place, at all levels, is amazing,” says Francis.

How Bear Essentials helps Liv and Asta Mai

Two-year-old Liv and baby Asta Mai are now both thriving at home. Liv loves listening to her favourite music while reading books and is always excited to go on nature adventures around the Island with her family. Asta Mai is growing and healthy, with no underlying health challenges.

And while the girls are doing well, the family has to travel to Nanaimo for medical appointments for Liv such as hearing tests, eye appointments, and blood work. They are happy that services such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and their pediatrician from Victoria come to Tofino every month. When Liv was younger, the monthly appointment wasn’t enough, and so the family travelled out of town even more frequently to access services.

As the six-hour round trip is not feasible to do in one day with a toddler, each appointment becomes an overnight journey. Between taking time off work and paying for a hotel, a full tank of gas, and meals, the appointments cost a significant amount of money. Thankfully, the family has been able to receive assistance through Bear Essentials*.

“Because we have the help of Bear Essentials, we don’t need to question whether we really need to go to the appointment. It has given us peace of mind,” says Francis.

Thanks to donors like you, the Bruhwiler family has been able to prioritize the most important thing – the health of their kids. You can help make sure all Island families have the same opportunity by making a gift to the Kids First Fund today.

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*Bear Essentials is a program powered by both Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island and Help Fill A Dream.