When a serious health problem hits, it leaves a mark that stays there forever – literally and figuratively. Along the way, there are losses to grieve and worries to fret over, but there are also moments of joy. For Isabelle, it is an experience that is etched in her heart – and tattooed on her arm. This is her story and the story of her son, Kaleb.

Like many women expecting their first child, Isabelle Veilleux felt her heart skip a beat every time she looked down at her growing belly. She imagined nine months of bliss, excitement and contentment ahead of her. But her euphoria came to an abrupt end 24 weeks into the pregnancy, when a fetal ultrasound revealed little Kaleb’s heart was riddled with defects. That’s when the anxiety set in.

Isabelle’s family doctor decided to be proactive, given that her own infant brother had died only two days after he was delivered as a result of a congenital heart defect. They transferred Isabelle’s file to Sainte-Justine right away. If Kaleb required surgery, he would be in the right place, with a top-notch team of on-site pediatric cardiologists at the ready.

At the 30-week mark, there was a second shock when her placenta separated from the uterus, sending her to the Sainte-Justine emergency room by ambulance. They admitted her and put her on bed rest for the remainder of her pregnancy. Three weeks later, the medical team decided to induce labour when they noticed the blood vessels in Kaleb’s brain were abnormally large.

Kaleb Neonatalogie

Kaleb came into the world by C-section, crying – which was good news. Just over 1,000 grams of pure happiness… and worry. So tiny, so fragile. Would he be able to withstand the heart surgery he would need? His parents were plagued by fears and doubts. And they had so many questions… The team of caregivers gently reassured them with kind words of encouragement and support.

When Kaleb was admitted into the NICU, the light at the end of the tunnel was too far away for us to see. But the staff at Sainte-Justine gave us hope, with their comforting smiles and calls to check in on our morale after a diagnosis was handed down. Each of these gestures, as simple as they may have seemed, meant the world to new parents who were under an unimaginable amount of strain.

Isabelle Veilleux

Kaleb’s mom

A month after he came into the world, Kaleb was operated on for the first time to treat a coarctation of the aorta, which meant his little heart was working extra hard and driving his blood pressure dangerously high. Unfortunately, the procedure did not deliver the desired results, although his condition did stabilize. After 42 days in the neonatal ward, Kaleb was sent home.

A turn for the worse

Back at home, the family resumed a fairly normal life, despite multiple medical appointments. But not long after his third birthday, Kaleb’s heart condition caught up to him. He suffered shortness of breath, extreme fatigue, night sweats and was susceptible to lung infections. He needed open-heart surgery. The stress was back, but there was a bit of good news to hang onto while they waited for his operation: another baby on the way was going to make Kaleb a big brother for a second time.

This time, the surgery was a success. Overnight, his parents saw a drastic change. Kaleb’s appetite increased. He had more energy. He didn’t get winded as easily. And he wasn’t tired all the time. His quality of life improved immensely.

Operation Kaleb2
Operation Kaleb
Isabelle Kaleb Au Chu Sainte Justine

Mom’s turn…

Two days after Kaleb’s surgery, another unfortunate surprise struck the family. Isabelle was rushed into the OR for a ruptured fallopian tube, the result of an ectopic pregnancy. She went into cardiac arrest on the operating table. It was the ultimate irony: just as Kaleb’s heart was getting healthier, his mother’s momentarily stopped beating.

But the Sainte-Justine team brought her back. On two different floors, two hearts decided that the story connecting them wasn’t finished.

I owe my life, and my son’s life, to Sainte-Justine. I’ll be indebted to them forever.

Isabelle Veilleux

Kaleb’s mom

A love for Sainte-Justine that is more than skin deep

The markings on Isabelle’s left arm may look simple at first glance, but they tell the complex story of her son, Kaleb. She will have them with her always so she never forgets

how important life and health are. And to show how grateful she is to Sainte-Justine and the people who work there.

Five tattoos, five powerful symbols:

  • The Sainte-Justine logo because they saved her life and the life of her son;
  • Her infant brother’s favourite toy since he is the reason they were made aware of Kaleb’s heart defects;
  • Kaleb’s heart wave during his first operation;
  • The quote “Life isn’t about avoiding the bruises, it’s about collecting the scars” which summarizes Isabelle’s philosophy about what they have gone through;
  • An anatomical drawing of a heart, beating strong and healthy.
Tatou Coeur Min
© Sophie Gélinas
Isabelle Kaleb Min
Isabelle Kaleb 2 Min

Today, things are good for Isabelle, Jonathan, Kaleb and his little brother, Logan. Their outlook on life, and how fragile it is, is not what it once was. They take nothing for granted – like a healthy baby born at full term.

Kaleb Sainte Justine Min
© Sophie Gélinas
Famille Kaleb Min
© Sophie Gélinas
Echo Cardio Kaleb Min

Our time at Sainte-Justine showed us just how much of a difference donors’ support can make in advancing research and acquiring state-of-the-art medical facilities and equipment. This has a direct impact on the care that tiny patients like Kaleb receive.

Isabelle Veilleux

Kaleb’s mom

Together, let’s send a message of love to all those who don’t have the same chance. Your donations help children like Kaleb get better and mothers-to-be like Isabelle receive the care they need.