Story by Lisa Sutherland; photo courtesy Sawasdipanich family and Didsbury District Health Services
Anugool (Nook) Sawasdipanich had no idea that, as a new Canadian from Thailand, by taking a job as a registered nurse at Didsbury District Health Services he’d be welcomed into a community of the most loving and caring people he could ever imagine.
“I am strongly confident this is a story worth spreading to the public, especially all Albertans and hopefully all Canadians, as one of Canadian citizenship responsibilities is helping others in the community,” says Sawasdipanich.
His tale began in June when the 45-year-old was on his way to a funeral for his uncle in Denver, Colo., with his pregnant wife, Pim, and two-year-old daughter, Angela.
He was daunted by the 1,800-km drive, but he and his wife agreed that they needed to attend the funeral and pay their respects to the only family they had in North America.
It was an exhausting journey, but they arrived in Denver in time to attend the funeral and the Thai Buddhist ceremonies that took place following the service.
But three days later, their trip took a turn for the worse.
While they were driving to a grocery store, Pim’s water broke. She was only 33 weeks pregnant, and they were very worried.
“At first, she thought she had peed her pants, but I was concerned that it could be amniotic fluid leaking,” says Sawasdipanich. “So I phoned home to a doctor on call at the Didsbury hospital – Dr. Robert Collingridge – to ask his opinion about rushing back home. He advised us to go to a nearby hospital to be checked immediately.”
That advice may have saved their daughter’s life.
A healthy but premature 4-lb.-9-oz., baby girl, Payton, was delivered that night at Sky Ridge Medical Centre, just outside of Denver, and admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
“It was a blessing to have a new family member, but she was just born in the wrong place – the United States instead of Canada, at the wrong time – seven weeks early,” says Sawasdipanich, who was concerned about how much their hospital bill would be if they were to remain in Colorado until his daughter was well enough to return home.
“We despaired and were exhausted about what had happen-ed to our family.”
That all changed when, a few days later, Nook’s colleagues Facetimed him and his family in the Denver hospital, offering their support.
“When Nook told us his baby would need to remain in hospital for another month, we knew something needed to be done to bring them home to be cared for in Canada,” says Penny Farley, head nurse of acute care with Didsbury District Health Services. “It took some convincing, but we were able to get Nook to agree to let us help him.”
So the fundraising efforts began.
“We wanted him to celebrate the birth of his baby, not worry about how he was going to be able to afford to get her home,” says Farley.
Within hours, his caring colleagues called him with the news that they’d raised enough money – $15,380 – from donations from fellow staff members and the community, to safely medevac his wife and daughter home.
At 1 p.m. on June 26, a medical jet equipped with specialized equipment and three medical staff from Calgary arrived in Denver and brought Pim and their precious Payton home. Upon landing, Payton was immediately transferred to the NICU at the Peter Lougheed Centre, where she remained in care for the next three weeks.
“The extremely generous help and support from Didsbury hospital staff, the Didsbury community, local churches and significant others made it possible to bring our daughter back home to Canada safely in a very short period of time,” says Sawasdipanich.
“Their compassion and caring toward our family are sincerely appreciated and will be remembered in our family journey forever. No words could express our feelings enough besides our tears of thankfulness.”Nook, Pim, Angela and Payton are grateful to the community who showed them what being a Canadian is all about.
“It was our family’s bad luck to be involved in this crisis,” says Sawasdipanich. “But without this incident, we would not clearly know how strong our unity is in the community and definitely in our nation, Canada.”