The Wipf Family

Red Deer House

Halkirk, Alberta

“Doctors suggested that we terminate the pregnancy,” says Abigail’s dad Henry. “But we knew there are babies who survive without amniotic fluid for a little while. So we weren’t giving up until she did.”

Abigail Wipf was born on May 22, 2014, in Red Deer, Alberta. Arriving early at 23 weeks, her parents knew to anticipate a few complications, but given that her mother’s water broke at 20 weeks, they had no idea what to expect of the journey ahead.

When Abigail was born, her lungs were so underdeveloped that they had not produced air sacs or vessels  yet. She needed to be transferred to Calgary where there are more acute care medical resources, so the Neonatal Intensive-Care Unit (NICU)team from the Foothills Hospital in Calgary flew to Red Deer to help transport her. “It took them 3 hours to get an air tube in,” says Henry. “Here lungs were so stiff. They had to massage the tube into her lungs. Then they spent about two more hours stabilizing her for transport.” Within a few hours of being born, Abigail was separated from her family.

With Abigail on her way to Calgary, her mom Christina needed to stay at the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre to continue to fight a rare blood infection that she contracted while pregnant, which unfortunately was passed on to Abigail during delivery. “The doctor said he hadn’t seen this specific infection in the blood since 2008,” says Henry.

With his wife in the hospital in Red Deer, his new daughter in the hospital in Calgary and his other children at home with relatives, Henry checked into Ronald McDonald House Charities Southern Alberta. Christina joined him in Calgary a few days later. They knew it was important to stay close to Abigail during this time.

For three weeks, doctors tried different antibiotics to fight Abigail’s blood infection, but nothing worked. Some medications would work for a few days, keeping symptoms at bay but nothing actually fought the infection, except for Abigail. “She was fighting incredibly hard,” says her dad. “By this time we had been spinning our wheels for a month, but we still needed to find the big guns.” Not only were the medications not fighting Abigail’s blood infection, they were very hard on her kidneys, her heart and prolonged her development in many ways.” She was fighting so hard just to stay alive that many of her body’s basic functions, like swallowing, didn’t develop.”

In addition to her blood infection and her inability to swallow, Abigail’s lungs were collapsing. For a total of 60 days, Abigail was intubated. Similar to treating her blood infection, ventilators only worked for a week or so, and then doctors would have to try something else. “The most important thing with Abby is tiny, little steps. Skipping steps or taking too big of a step doesn’t work for her,” says Henry.

Eventually, Abigail began to show signs of improvement as her blood infection cleared up. After being in the NICU at the Foothills Hospital for four months, Abigail was transferred to the Alberta Children’s Hospital to focus on her respiratory issues. Once at the children’s hospital she spent four months in the NICU and three weeks in Unit 2.

On Christmas Eve, the Wipf family was invited to have dinner with friends of theirs in the city. After dinner, Henry and Christina learned that Abigail had been taken back to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) in critical condition because her lungs were totally collapsed. “Abigail’s lungs were so collapsed, they had turned white,” says her dad. “We didn’t know if Abigail was going to pull through,” says Henry. “We spent most of the next day talking with the doctors about that.”

Struggling to intubate a sedated Abigail, it was decided to paralyze her and try again. At this point, the Wipf family had no guarantee if their “little Abby” was going to breathe or move again and it was now brought to their attention that she would need laser eye surgery since her eyes had deteriorated so much.

After another 2 months of being intubated and on a ventilator numerous times, Abigail’s lungs started to open and she finally started improving again. Once she was well enough, she received a tracheostomy. “After that surgery Abby turned the corner and never looked back,” said her dad. “Even the doctors were amazed that she no longer required eye surgery.” At this point, Abigail stayed on Unit 2 for another 4 months before she was released back to the hospital in Red Deer for an additional 2 weeks and then finally home.

“Staying at Ronald McDonald House took so much stress off,” says Henry. “We felt cared for and like we belonged.” The Wipf family stayed at Ronald McDonald House Charities Southern Alberta for 473 nights while Abigail was being treated in Calgary. Once she was released back to the Red Deer Regional Hospital, the Wipf family was able to stay close to her at Ronald McDonald House Charities Central Alberta in Red Deer for an additional 17 nights. “We will never be able to give back what the House did for us,” says Henry.

Thanks to our many donors and supporters, while the Wipf family was staying at the House we were able to provide them with numerous much needed distractions to relieve a bit of their stress and help provide them with a sense of normalcy. Henry fondly remembers the day their family attended the WestJet Street Hockey Tournament as House family representatives. Not only did they share with the audience how Ronald McDonald House has affected their lives, they toured the hanger and plane simulator, but most important wass that their family was able to spend the day together away from the hospital.

On Mother’s Day, Christina, along with several of the other moms staying at the House, spent the day at the Fairmont Palliser being pampered in their spa. A few hours spent getting spa treatments gave Christina a much needed break and the opportunity to talk to other moms going through similar situations.

Throughout their stay, the Wipf family went above and beyond contributing to the overall wellbeing of all families staying at the House. Despite the struggles they were dealing with, Henry says, “We just had to adapt. I’d force myself to smile and do good deeds, like cook dinner for everyone in the House. We did it all with love and kindness and it helped.” Cooking dinner for 23 families gave Henry an outlet to express his creativity in the kitchen, as well as give the other families more time with their child and less time in the kitchen. Deliveries of fresh produce from the Wipf’s extended family were greatly appreciated as well.

We will continue to provide a home away from home for the Wipf family when they need to bring Abigail to Calgary or Red Deer from Halkirk, Alberta, every month for treatments and checkups.

Meet our Other Families