It had been weeks since four-year-old Harper moved for more than a few minutes during physiotherapy. But when her six-year-old brother, Oliver, visited her, she happily walked around the hospital with him for an impressive 20 minutes.

“Harper and Oliver are incredibly close. They are each other’s best friend,” says their dad, Andrew.

Harper and Oliver.

Harper was born with a rare heart defect, and her health journey has strengthened her bond with her older brother.

In 2021, the family left their home in St. Catharines, Ont. for Harper to receive heart surgery in Toronto. At the time, Andrew says RMHC Toronto felt like a comfortable place for the family to stay together for just a few weeks. After a surgery that resulted in heart failure, and a complicated treatment plan to keep her stable, the family was reassured they could all go home.

After further hospitalizations and a month in home care, Andrew, and his wife, Hsin, suspected Harper’s health was deteriorating. Doctors realized Harper’s heart failure was progressing, and she was admitted to SickKids where she underwent yet another surgery and remained in the ICU for weeks. On December 31, 2021, the family was relieved to return to RMHC Toronto to stay close to Harper.

Harper’s condition has since stabilized; she now has a Berlin Heart, which helps take on the function of the left side of her heart. She is currently listed for a heart transplant and the family will likely be calling RMHC Toronto home for up to a year as they wait for a heart.

“Staying at RMHC Toronto to be with Harper is so important,” says Andrew. “Hsin, Oliver and I are the best advocates for her health. Hsin and I divide and conquer so that one of us is always with her, which wouldn’t be possible if we weren’t at the House. We know her moods, appetite, and other indicators that have helped her doctors improve her treatment.”

Andrew, Harper, Hsin.

Being at the House has also helped Harper and Oliver support each other, beyond their frequent video calls to chat and check in with one another.

“Oliver loves RMHC Toronto School. He can’t visit Harper as frequently as he’d like due to the hospital’s visitor rules, so he loves making things at School that Hsin and I can bring her. Then she makes something for him. It’s sweet,” says Andrew. “When Oliver does visit, it lifts their spirits and improves Harper’s well-being.”

Andrew expresses well what so many of the families at RMHC Toronto experience.

Being at RMHC Toronto is like letting out a sigh of relief. I never expected we’d be at the House this long, but I’m so grateful we are here and now it feels like home.”