More often than not it is parents who take care of their children when they are sick but for 20-year-old Moose Jaw resident Ashlea Tran, it’s the other way around.
Ashlea and her brother Michael have been tasked with taking care of their father, Peter, who is fighting for his life after a failed brain shunt put him into the hospital.
Tran says that 20 years ago Peter had a brain tumour, which resulted in him needing a brain shunt installed.
A shunt is a hollow tube that is surgically placed in the brain to help drain cerebrospinal fluid and redirect it to another location.
Fast forward to a few months ago, Tran explained that she and Michael started to notice that their father was not acting himself. On Jan. 12, the two rushed him to the Dr. F.H. Wigmore Regional Hospital here in Moose Jaw to try and get a diagnosis of Peter.
“We found out that his brain shunt is failing,” says Tran. “He ended up going to Regina that day [Jan. 12] and he’s basically been in Regina ever since. He has come back to Moose Jaw but ended up having to go back to Regina because it kept failing. He has had six surgeries in almost two months, which is a lot for anyone, especially on such a delicate body part – the brain.”
There is hope that Peter will be able to return to Moose Jaw in the next couple of weeks, but the biggest concern right now is his memory due to the fluid build-up in his brain.
“It’s unsafe for him to be home alone because if he falls again, it could damage the shunt, and if he doesn’t remember we’re back at square one. We’re really rooting for him to go into some sort of temporary placement until we can assess him further in the future,” adds Tran.
Unfortunately, Peter can’t be tested at this time for Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease because of the several surgeries he has had recently. Tran says that in order for his dad to be properly tested for those two diseases, he will have to be surgery-free for at least a month.
Currently, Peter is stable in Regina but is battling with mobility issues due to previous brain tumours physically disabling him. Tran explains that mobility troubles have been something Peter has dealt with most of his life.
“He lost his left arm due to flesh-eating disease about eight years ago. The memory issues and the fluid build-up in the brain, it’s caused more mobility issues that aren’t normal. He is still independent but only in a hospital setting. When he is at home, he is not independent currently.”
The medical term for the flesh-eating disease is “Necrotizing Fasciitis”. It is a very severe bacterial infection that spreads quickly through the tissue surrounding the muscles. In some cases, death can occur within 12 to 24 hours.
There is no vaccine to prevent flesh-eating disease and the recommended treatment is antibiotics, but that is usually not enough due to the rapid spread of the virus.
Over the last two months, Tran and her brother have focused on remembering who their dad was to try and bring light to a gloomy situation.
“Even though he didn’t know where he was, why he was there, and how many surgeries he’s had, he looked at me one morning and said; Ashlea when are you going back to work? I replied, don’t worry about it dad just get better. He then said Ashlea don’t lose your job over me, life goes on. That was a signal to me to keep going and he would want me to continue living my life.”
It’s not an easy feat for two 20-year-olds to become caregivers for their father, as they have had to step up and worry about paying bills, buying groceries, and other parental duties.
Tran said that it’s been an emotional rollercoaster to try and be there for her dad, while also trying to hold down a full-time job.
“It’s just been very overwhelming. I’ve had to go back to counseling again, I’m seeing my psychiatrist. I’m really trying to advocate for myself because if I don’t take care of myself, I can't be there for my dad. I’m trying to prevent a breaking point because I’m starting to burn out, as it’s almost been two months.”
She doesn’t see the worst of it being over quite yet and is coming to the realization that her dad’s condition could be permanent.
The other side of the emotional rollercoaster has been the cost of constant trips back and forth to Regina each week, along with food, and possible rehabilitation at a new house. Tran only has her learner’s license, so she relies on rides to and from Regina, which has created financial stress for her.
To try and help offset some of the costs, Tran created a GoFundMe page on Feb. 6. As of Wednesday, she has raised $1,360 of the $2,500 goal.
“I’m trying to get ready for the future for whatever happens next whether we move or not. I do have a job, but I don’t have enough money to keep doing this until this is over, so I had to think outside of the box.”
In the beginning, she thought she would only get $500, which in her mind was still a lot, but then donations started to roll in.
“It means more to me than words can say. The fact I got over that limit, I was really shocked and surprised that people were willing to put some money aside from their own personal business to help me, my dad, and Michael.”
She wanted to take a moment and thank the Moose Jaw community for assisting her and her family in this difficult time.
In addition to the GoFundMe page, Tran started to make “Smile On” bracelets, which she sells to help alleviate costs as well.
She explains that there is a significant meaning behind the phrase “Smile On”.
“When my dad had his brain tumour 20 years ago, he lost half of the mobility in his face so he couldn’t eat, swallow, chew, or smile. When they told my dad that he would never be able to smile again, he said no I’m going to smile. He went to physiotherapy and learned how to smile again.”
The saying “Smile On” has been a staple in her life and has kept her going through this difficult time.
The hope for Tran is that her dad will be able to return to Moose Jaw in the coming weeks or months and be put into temporary care.
Those that want to learn more about Peter's story, the GoFundMe page, or the “Smile On” bracelets can do so HERE.