Herger saw a “Message of Thanks” posted to the BC Children’s LinkedIn profile and decided to post her own message on the hospital’s website.
“I wouldn’t be who I am today without the help I got from all the nurses and doctors at the hospital,” she says. “It set the tone for the rest of my life."
Herger, now 24, was 12 years old when she was diagnosed with a brain tumour. She had been growing rapidly, from 5’2” to 5’9” in less than a year. She also started to lose vision in her left eye. She went first to an optometrist in her home town of Vernon, B.C. About two weeks later, she found herself being treated by Dr. Doug Cochrane in the BC Children’s neurosurgery unit.
The tumour over produced a hormone that impacted her growth and health. The hormone didn’t stop until the tumour was treated. Part of the tumour on Herger’s pituitary gland was removed and the rest was treated with 38 treatments of radiation. She had to get injections in the backs of her hips to stop her growth. In total, she spent about two months at BC Children’s.
“Dr. Cochrane was amazing. A brilliant man,” she says. “I was obviously really scared, but I don’t remember the pain. What I remember - and what everyone in my family remembers - is how nice and happy everyone was.”
Cochrane spent 30 years working at BC Children’s and retired in 2017. Now living in the Okanagan, he is the Chair of the BC Patient Safety & Quality Council and the Patient Safety and Quality Officer for B.C. He says being remembered for his treatment after all these years is heartwarming.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to know patients remember the care I was able to provide,” he says. “My real satisfaction comes from knowing, 12 years out, Maggie is living a full life and that the tumour isn’t interfering with that.”
Herger thinks back to her nurse Rachel MacDonald, searching every floor for Fruit Loops, her favourite cereal.
“I was a really picky eater and I was pretty grumpy. Rachel also kept her eye out for my favourite movies. It’s the little things she did that made me feel like a normal kid.”
MacDonald is now a nurse at Vernon Jubilee Hospital and still working with children in maternity and pediatrics.
“I feel very moved at how Maggie’s been able to navigate through her health challenges, live fully and contribute to the community around her,” says MacDonald. “It’s really sweet of her to acknowledge our work through what must have been such a hard time for her. It’s nice to know she was seeing positivity and light back then.”
When Herger’s older sister turned 16, she held a superhero fundraising party to benefit BC Children’s and raised $1,200. Giving back runs in the family. Herger volunteered through high school with the Special Olympics, coached a special needs cheerleading team in California and taught refugees in France.
“I enjoy learning from others, instead of staring at books and computers,” she says.
Now, Herger lives in Chicago and is still dealing with several health issues. She’s developed epilepsy as result of the radiation. She also suffers from unrelated facial nerve damage. Despite this, she completed a bachelor’s degree in international affairs and French. Her school fees are nothing compared to the health-care bills that piled up while living in the U.S.
“I just keep on smiling and try not to dwell on the negative,” she says. “My dad says it gives me character.”
Herger says this is the approach she learned during her stay at BC Children’s. Cochrane agrees the team he worked with at the hospital was outstanding.
“Maggie had a wonderful, high-performing team working with her,” he says. “What we did – and still do – is create an environment where patients and families are not going it alone. There’s a ‘village’ around the child and their family and, in the end, it leads to more positive outcomes.”
MacDonald also says the support around a child is crucial during hospital visits.
“I love to find ways to playfully connect and support the feeling of safety and trust,” says MacDonald. “Childhood experiences can be so impactful on how we connect with our strength and resiliency throughout life. Maggie is an inspiring example of this.”
“It’s interesting to see. Kids will receive a cancer diagnosis and you’ll see them wandering the hallways later, thinking of ways to turn it into a class project. As long as we don’t impose our fears on them, it’s amazing how kids can be incredibly resilient and strong.”
Herger is currently working for a software company and actively looking to move back to Canada to find a job that will use her French skills. The care she received here is never far from her mind.
“I can’t express how thankful I am to the doctors and nurses at BC Children’s,” she says. “All the small happy moments they create every day are appreciated by kids going through a tough time.”