Matthew is one of many children who will benefit from the Gut4Health program at BC Children’s Hospital once it is established. Born and raised in Smithers, a small town in northwestern BC, Matthew Veilleux was a normally active boy who loved sports and goofing around with his friends. His mom Pat even nicknamed him “otter” because he was so playful and social. But at age 13, Matt started to have pains in his stomach. His appetite waned, he lost weight rapidly, and he was exhausted. His parents took him to the local hospital multiple times, but no clear diagnosis emerged.

“We knew something was wrong, we just didn’t know what. He was disappearing before our eyes. He weighed 67 pounds. He hurt all the time. I felt helpless as a mom. I would tell him it was okay, but I didn’t know if it was.”

After six months, Matt was referred to BC Children’s Hospital. Once there, doctors diagnosed him with Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease that causes symptoms such as abdominal cramps and loss of appetite. From top to bottom, Matt’s small intestine was full of lesions.

When they got to BC Children’s Hospital, Pat says the family was immediately put at ease. “They’re so good at what they do. A lot of people think they just care for kids in Vancouver, but they care for everybody. They were really good to us.”

Matt said that for him the hospital felt like a life raft. “To me, it was a light surrounded by darkness—a peaceful spot to heal during a pretty messed up time. The doctors treated me like a person, not just a little kid who didn’t understand.”

Doctors wanted Matt’s intestine to rest, and decided that he would need to be tube fed for eight weeks. When the tube went down Matt’s nose and into his throat, it was an emotional moment for everyone. “He was crying and gagging. It was so hard to watch. After that tube went in it was like a light switch—he lost his smile.”

With the feeding tube in, Matt returned to Smithers. His two brothers and parents decided that in a show of solidarity they wouldn’t eat dinner in front of him. Instead, his oldest brother bought him a PlayStation 4 so that Matt could play video games while the family ate. They made a countdown calendar for the day he could eat again, and he decided that his first meal would be chicken strips—his favourite.

“When he ate his first cracker, we cried,” said Pat. “That sounds weird but it was huge. It meant he was healing.”

Once the feeding tube was out, the family travelled from Smithers to Vancouver for special bloodwork every three months. It was a long trip that required two days for travel and tests, even when they opted to fly instead of making the 16-hour drive.

Once Matt was well into remission, the family learned that his physician Dr. Schreiber provides a Regional Subspecialty Clinic in Prince George—a 4.5-hour drive from the family’s home. BC Children’s Hospital Regional Subspecialty Clinics, which are supported by Child Health BC, were developed to help families across the province and are increasingly in demand. Over the past year, the pediatric gastroenterology team doubled their patient visits across the province.

Today, Matthew is doing great. “He’s now 160 pounds, and healthy and strong,” said Pat. “He’s been in remission for almost a whole year. I’m not sure where we would be without BC Children’s Hospital.”

Matthew is one of many children who will benefit from the Gut4Health program at BC Children’s Hospital once it is established.