The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Climb the Beanstalk: Program helps hospitalized kids hit development milestones

  • Print

TORONTO - It won't just be Americans celebrating Independence Day this Friday. July 4 is Aurora Blomerus's first birthday, and the little girl who has defied some long medical odds will be leaving Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, which has been her home since November.

Aurora has spent her short life in hospitals, here and in Pretoria, South Africa. She was born there with a condition called gastroschisis — some of her gastro-intestinal organs were outside her abdomen. It's a condition that can generally be successfully corrected with surgery.

In Aurora's case, however, most of her small intestine had died before she was born because a blood clot had cut off blood flow to the organ. It had to be removed the day after her birth, leaving her with only six centimetres of small intestine and 15 cm of colon — not nearly enough to draw nutrition from food.

Aurora gets most of her nutrients via a tube, requiring her to be hooked to equipment for all but six hours a day. She needs a bowel transplant but is now healthy enough to leave hospital while she waits for a donor organ to become available.

Her hospital stays have kept the little girl alive and she currently appears to be thriving. She chatters and grabs for toys and squawks when she is unhappy that something she wants is out of reach. It's all normal baby behaviour — but not necessarily skills that come easily to infants who call hospitals home.

Spending the first weeks, months and sometimes years of life in a hospital can seriously impede the normal development of a young tyke, sometimes depriving them of the stimulation and the opportunities to play that help babies learn to roll over, crawl, sit up and stand. Making sure a young child reaches these key milestones can get short shrift when the baby is a patient hooked to tubes and monitors in a hospital crib.

"We often thought: 'When is she going to do this or that?'" admitted Aurora's mother, Nicole Blomerus, a Vancouver native. Aurora's father, Harold, is South African.

"You're so focused on the medical issues and that's all that you really have time for. So even if it's a thought in the back of your head, you don't act on it," she said in an interview Monday.

Aurora's surgery left her with a condition called short bowel syndrome. When doctors in South Africa told Nicole and Harold Blomerus they could do nothing further for Aurora, Nicole went online to see if Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children might be able to treat their little girl.

They quickly received an affirmative answer, though it took four months to get Aurora to Toronto. By the time she arrived, she was very sick, her liver stressed by the diet she was on.

At Sick Kids, the family found Aurora's health-care team wasn't just concerned about her physical health. Staff from Sick Kids' Beanstalk Program approached the family to assess how the little girl was doing developmentally, devising a plan to involve everyone on Team Aurora — her parents, her health-care professionals and hospital volunteers — in helping the little girl catch up to where children her age would be.

The idea behind the program, which the staff developed about 12 years ago, is to treat the children like babies, not just patients.

"What can we do better to minimize the impact of being in the hospital for these children and help them have the best developmental outcome?" explains Alaine Rogers, an occupational therapist who is part of the Beanstalk team.

"We can't control the medical situation they have going on and how that will impact their lives. But we can definitely provide them with as many opportunities to engage in play, interaction, exploring their environment, getting them out of bed, getting them moving to the greatest of our ability to counteract some of that impact, to help them meet their developmental milestones."

Physiotherapist Stephanie So said 10 years ago children like Aurora would not have survived. With improvements in medicine, they now can. But that means care must include helping young patients be ready to live their lives like other children, able to play and walk and explore their worlds.

"We need to focus on their development," So said.

Nicole and Harold Blomerus see the impact the work has had on Aurora.

"It was very incremental, the whole way. They gave us a few tasks to work on initially. And when she'd get good at those things they'd identify something else that had to worked on and we moved forward. And you know, she's really caught up, thanks to them," Nicole said.

"Even though she's still sick, now we have the joy of (seeing her) clapping her hands or waving bye-bye and hello. And standing up — she's just recently started taking a few steps if we encourage her.

"So it is really nice to be able to focus on those happy things. The things that any normal parent wants to look at when they have a baby, right?"

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Judy W-L endorsed by firefighters union

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Local- A large osprey lands in it's nest in a hydro pole on Hyw 59  near the Hillside Beach turnoff turn off. Osprey a large narrow winged hawk which can have a wingspan of over 54 inches are making a incredible recovery since pesticide use of the 1950's and  1960's- For the last two decades these fish hawks have been reappearing in the Lake Winnipeg area- Aug 03, 2005
  • Jia Ping Lu practices tai chi in Assiniboine Park at the duck pond Thursday morning under the eye of a Canada goose  - See Bryksa 30 Day goose challenge Day 13- May 17, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos


Do you think Judy Wasylycia-Leis will greatly benefit from the endorsement by Winnipeg's firefighters?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google