Gwendolen’s Story


by Patricia O’Neill, SMUS Parent

Gwendolen is far from ordinary. Until last July, this angelic 16-year-old with her halo of golden curls and glorious smile had everything to live for. Like her fellow SMUS students, she eagerly awaited summer. She had worked long and hard to achieve her high academic results. She was the kind of young woman any school would be proud to have as its ambassador: determined, engaged, creative and athletic. Gwendolen was a varsity rower; she had done service work in an orphanage in Vietnam; she had been a competitive swimmer – and the list goes on.

The summer of 2010 was going to be busy for her. She had a part-time job at Thrifty Foods and was also signed up to do a life-saving course. The highlight of her summer was going to be a trip to Vancouver with her mom to see her favourite singer, Michael Bublé, perform live. She was so excited about it and could talk about nothing else. Her mom had also got her tickets to see Cirque de Soleil with her grandmother, to whom Gwen was very close. When Gwen celebrated Canada Day with all her close friends, her happiness and joie de vivre was contagious.

On July 25, Gwendolen’s world fell apart. She suffered a severe acquired brain injury – a haemorrhage, or brain bleed, due to a ruptured artery in the left side of her brain. It was a devastating and life-threatening injury; Gwendolen was put into an induced coma and started on a road to recovery that would be arduous.

After a lengthy hospital stay at Victoria General Hospital, tackled with her characteristic optimism and determination, Gwendolen made the decision to transfer to the Adolescent and Young Adult Program of GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver, so that she could work harder on her rehab, with a goal of returning to school.

Gwendolen has come a long way since July 25. She has had to re-learn basic functions like chewing and swallowing. From there she learned to propel herself around the hospital in a wheelchair using her “good” leg. Today, she is walking. Gwendolen continues to learn to adapt to being newly left-handed (movement in her right hand and arm is still impaired), and slowly, she is re-training her brain so that she can speak. It’s a long journey, and will continue to be a long journey, but it is one that she faces with amazing courage and hope.

As parents ourselves, we are reaching out to fellow parents in SMUS. Please, let us not forget our Gwendolen. She is a precious little member of our close community; a little fledgling whose wings were sadly clipped. But she will fly again and with our help and support.

On reading this, you may ask “how can I help?” There are many ways you can help.The number of rehab sessions covered by the provincial medical plan is very limited. We need to raise funds to help Gwen’s family.

If you have a little money to spare, you can buy a square on the beautiful quilt being sewn for Gwendolen and have your child write a message on it.

If you have even more money jingling in your pocket, begging to go to a good cause, you can attend our two-day Silent Auction to be held on the parent/teacher evenings, March 7 and March 9. We have fabulous items up for auction that range from $20 gift certificates for Boston Pizza to a Whistler condo vacation.

Thank you to all the members of the SMUS community for their support so far, and we hope you will all join us on Team Gwendo during this difficult time.

Join us for the Silent Auction in Support of Gwen O’Connor on March 7 and 9 in the Monkman Athletic Complex (Double Gym). Here are just some of the items available for bids:

  • A private concert in your home
  • Return tickets on Harbour Air
  • Box seat to events at Save-on-Foods Memorial Arena
  • A Blackberry 9300
  • Getaways to Four Seasons Whistler, Tigh-Na-Mara , Delta  Ocean Pointe Resort & Spa, and Hotel Grand Pacific
  • Golf at Uplands Golf Course, the Ridge, Cordova Bay Golf Course, and Ardmore Golf Course
  • Restaurant Gift Certificates to Earls, Moxie’s, Cactus Club, Nostalgi, Pescatores, Bon Rouge
  • Themed Gift Baskets: “Luck of the Irish”; “Spring is in the Air”; “Kitchen Kit”; “Let’s Do Lunch”; “Movie Night”; “Chocolate Lovers”; “Coffee Lovers”
  • Fitness passes, lift passes
  • Ballet tickets, spa treatments
  • Original art, furniture, one of a kind pottery
  • Bread for a year!!!
  • Gift cards for groceries, flowers, and movie theatres
  • Wine tour and tasting
  • Clothing, accessories, a Coach purse
  • We even have a weed eater!


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