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When children and young adolescents are faced with the challenges of chronic and life-threatening illness, they not only tackle the physical and emotional suffering that accompanies their struggle, they also deal with having to miss some of what should be the most formative years of their life.
Fifteen-year-old Christophe Robichaud knows this sacrifice all too well. Not only has he recently begun catching up with friends he has not seen in years, he is currently making up for three years of missed school. In spite of these setbacks, Christophe certainly does not lack maturity. In the words of his mother, he is wise beyond his years.
When Christophe was 11 he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He underwent six months of chemotherapy which, unfortunately, did not cure him of this terrible disease. A bone marrow transplant became Christophe’s only option. He received the transplant and spent four months in isolation. Sadly, Christophe developed a serious complication as a result of the transplant known as graft vs. host disease, causing the donated marrow to react against Christophe’s body. Yet again, medication did not work for Christophe and a therapy known as extra-corporeal photopherisis was required. Because this treatment was available in only two hospitals in Canada, Christophe made over a dozen trips to Calgary to receive it. The treatment was rigorous and painful but turned out successful. Christophe’s battle began to bear fruit.
In 2005 Christophe suffered a relapse. Following more treatments he then suffered from migraine headaches so intense that even morphine could not relieve the pain. The migraines were causing such pressure on his optic nerve that he was at risk of going blind. To relieve this pain, a shunt was surgically implanted in his head.
Christophe has always actively participated in his treatments by making himself informed. His strength of character even led to a new standard in treatment. To receive his ECP treatment in Calgary, Christophe would require a permanent catheter inserted into a major vein, several inches of which would hang outside of the body, limiting his activities. Since swimming in the lakes of the Eastern Townships was so important to Christophe, he refused the therapy unless an alternative catheter could be found. Christophe made such a compelling case that his physician, Dr. David Mitchell, rose to this challenge. He found a catheter that would work and Christophe became the first patient in Canada to receive this treatment using a titanium port. Christophe’s resolve has now made it easier for future patients to benefit from the same device.
Christophe describes the Hospital staff with the greatest fondness: “If you ring the bell 25 times, the nurses will come 25 times, and they always find a solution!” He also remembers when Dr. Celia Rodd called him at home three times a day for a month to make sure he was well. Because of the great care he has received, he has done everything possible to give back. He and his family set up The Christophe Robichaud Fund, which raised $50,000 during its first event celebrating Christophe’s return home after his transplant in 2004. The funds raised were given to the Hematology-Oncology Unit, and the family is currently planning another event.
A gifted spokesperson, Christophe has participated in the past two Radiothons. In 2006, he was also bestowed the TD Canada Trust Nicolas W. Matossian Junior Community Award.
Christophe represented Quebec and The Montreal Children’s Hospital in Ottawa and Orlando, as Opération Enfant Soleil-Children’s Miracle Network’s program “Champions across Canada”. Sponsored by Wal-Mart, the program recognizes and rewards the courage of a child in each Canadian province, a “champion” that has faced the challenges of coping with illness. This special occasion included a visit with the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, at Rideau Hall, and being chosen to speak to the media on behalf of all champions across Canada.
Today, Christophe is in remission and is slowly coming off steroids. Although he still suffers some symptoms, he feels much better. He is going to summer school, and is currently perfecting his culinary talents to become a master chef. No child should ever have to endure what this young patient has during the past four years, but Christophe has used his experiences to develop spirituality, grace, and a sense of resolve to never stop fighting. He is a source of inspiration and a true example of courage and determination for all who, like us, have had the privilege to know him.