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Olivier's Story

Big Heroes Come In Small Packages

Olivier Ulysse is having a great time building a volcano inOlivier with his parents the playroom located on CHEO’s four West unit. With the help of his parents he carefully cuts and dips strips of plaster into a water dish and then applies them to the cottons balls, glued to the large mound in front of him.The plaster covered cotton balls will quickly harden and give shape to an exciting volcano.

You would never know by looking at the jovial little boy who is engrossed in his craft, but inside Olivier is a silent volcano of his own - one that lies dormant for now, but erupted so violently back in early January of 2010.

“It all happened very quickly the night of January 2nd,” recounts Olivier’s mother, Marie-Josée Cossette. "We put him to bed at 8:00 p.m. Everything was normal. He had had a great day playing with his big sister, eight year old Mathilde, and his new Christmas toys. But around 9:00 p.m. he woke up suddenly and threw up and then he threw up a few more times after that. He was in pain and his stomach was swollen. He was panting and struggling to breathe.”

The worried couple packed up Olivier and his older sister Mathilde and headed to the CHEO Emergency department. “We thought we would be

sent home in a few hours,” recalls Marie-Josée.

Upon arrival at the CHEO Emergency department, Olivier threw up again. He was immediately triaged, where the nurse took his vital signs. “They quickly moved us into a larger room where suddenly we were surrounded by more nurses and doctors,” says Marie-Josée. “They ran a battery of tests and asked us a lot of questions."

A few hours after arriving at the Emergency department and many tests later, Olivier’s condition was worsening; that’s when the family

received devastating news. “The doctors told us they were moving him up to the intensive care unit,” recounts Marie-Josée. “His vital signs were very

low. He was in a great deal of pain. We were very worried and we had no idea what was going to happen.”

Doctors explained to Marie-Josée and Stanley that they needed to operate on Olivier. “They said we have no idea what he has except that something is wrong inside,” explains Marie-Josée. “The doctor said your child is a lot sicker than you think and it’s very serious. Between you and me, with these vital signs, we would already be dead.”

“It was a nightmare,” says Marie-Josée. “Olivier was a very healthy little boy, very normal, very happy.There was no history of major illness in our family. He was a happy-go-lucky little boy attending daycare. And now, here we were.”

After a four hour surgery, the CHEO team was finally able to explain to the worried parents that Olivier has suffered an intestinal torsion. This occurs when a section of the bowel is twisted. In Olivier’s case, a large portion of his bowel had necrotized, causing damage and killing cells or tissue. As a result, the surgeon had to remove the majority of Olivier’s colon and intestines.

“After the first surgery, his intestines were pink and there was poor blood circulation. They needed oxygen to heal so they did not close him up. They wanted to wait 24 hours to see if more would necrotize,” explains Marie-Josée.

In total, Olivier would undergo three surgeries in three days. In the end, the majority of his intestines were removed. To date, he has undergone six abdominal surgeries, all with intestinal resections.

Olivier’s healing journey has been long and painful.

As a result of losing the majority of his intestines, Olivier could no longer eat and digest food the regular way. “They had to insert a feeding tube in hisarm,” explains Marie-Josée. “But the feeding tube in his arm did not work so they put in a central line by making an incision in a vein in his neck and inserting a tube that goes down to his heart." The central venous line is now used to administer medication, feeding fluids and obtain blood tests.

On January 18th Olivier celebrated his 3rd birthday – at CHEO.In fact, Oliver has never been home since his arrival at CHEO in early January. His parents take turns being with him. “He’s never alone,” says Stanley. Marie-Josée and Stanley remain dedicated to their son.They have put their jobs on hold and take turns spending the day and night with Olivier and caring for their older daughter.

Their time spent at CHEO as been made a little easier with the help of the medical and support team available to them and to Olivier.

“We are in the right place,” says mom.  

The couple has nothing but positive comments regarding the care their son has received at CHEO. “The nurses are great,” says Stanley. “They have gotten to know Olivier and have established a level of trust with him. From the nurses to the dieticians to the child life specialist - theyare fantastic.The entire team is behind us.”  “And I trust them,” adds Marie-Josée.

Olivier will eventually undergo another surgery, one that will join his intestines to his colon. Eventually, with time and patience, it is hoped that his intestines will adapt and allow food to be absorbed and Olivier will begin eating through his mouth. “But even if he starts to eat, there’s no guarantee that the intestine will absorb the food without assistance,” explains Marie-Josée.

Olivier’s parents are very quick to praise their little boy for his courage and strength. “He has adapted incredibly well,” says his father. “He calls CHEO his new daycare.”

For now the family remains positive and makes the most of each day. “His room is full of toys and each day we go outside and play in the park,” says Stanley. “We do all we can to make his days fun. We play all sorts of games, we make up stories,” adds Marie-Josée.

After all, isn’t that what being three years old is all about?


Good news. Olivier continues to get better. On June 29th, 2010 Oliver underwent another major operation at CHEO to join his intestines to his colon. The operation was a success and Oliver was discharged from CHEO, just in time for Christmas. In February of 2011 Olivier, his sister Mathilde, along with his grandmother and his parents all spent a wonderful week at Disney in Orlando, Florida.This trip was made possible by the non-profit

organization Give Kids the World Village. Oliver’s mother, Marie-Josée tells us while the road to recovery is going well – it’s not over. Olivier is scheduled to undergo a series of tests at St-Justine hospital in Montreal, followed by another operation at Toronto’s Sick kids. His journey continues.

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