'This isn't the last time we are going to hold our daughter': One family's story of survival
LONDON, ONT. -- It’s been a long road for 18-month-old Evelyn Olsen, who already in her young life has spent more time in hospital than any of us ever will.
“So far she’s had two surgeries, one open-heart surgery and a G-Tube surgery and she will need two more open heart surgeries in her future,” says Evelyn's mom Veronica Olsen.
Evelyn, who was born premature at 29 weeks gestation was born with a heart defect and needed an open-heart surgery to save her life.
“It was extremely scary, she was the smallest baby to have that surgery at three pounds,” says Veronica. “They had no choice but to step in and do it early and she only had a three per cent chance of surviving it so it was extremely scary.”
Evelyn’s father Sean Olsen says he will never forget that moment.
“We just held her the night before her surgery and said, 'This isn’t the last time we are going to hold our daughter,' and it wasn’t.”
Evelyn beat the odds and continues to - day after day. It’s been a stressful 18 months though for the Chatham, Ont. family, who admit it’s taken a toll on their mental health.
“It got to the point where I had to come to terms with the fact that if I didn’t get the help I needed I wouldn’t be able to continue to help Sean and Evelyn and my family,” says Veronica.
“I started to lose weight and having stomach issues and got to the point where I physically couldn’t ignore my symptoms anymore and get help.”
Meanwhile Sean, who also didn’t realize he was in need of help, had a severe panic attack at work.
“Eventually I got out of the building and into my car but I couldn’t even drive and I sat there for 40 minutes with a roller coaster of emotions,” he says.
“I was crying and screaming and that’s what it was, the fight or flight mode had drilled, and all the effects of the trauma had hit hard.”
Sean also admits he was turning to alcohol to self-medicate, so he reached out for help. He’s now been sober for six months and is starting up a podcast to talk about his mental health journey and addiction to let others knows they are not alone.
“If you are going down the self-medicating road and it’s getting out of control it’s okay to ask for help. It doesn’t make you less of a person. We are all human and we can’t bear the weight on our shoulder…we all need a little help.”
Evelyn is still not in the clear and there will be more surgeries and hospital trips in the future.
But Veronica hopes by speaking out about their mental health journey, especially on Bell Let’s Talk Day, they can help other parents who may be struggling as well.
“It affects your relationships, it affects everything else around you, so taking care of yourself is the greatest thing you can do to help everyone else.”