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Zayna smiling at the camera

For Zayna, personalized care meant everything

Imagine a world where baking cookies becomes a therapy session, where Bollywood dancing is part of rehabilitation, and where laughter fills the halls alongside the hum of medical equipment. For 13-year-old, Zayna this was actually her reality.

Just before her 13th birthday, Zayna was diagnosed with leukemia — and an adverse reaction to the chemotherapy treatment left her paralyzed on the left side of her body.

“I went to Holland Bloorview for three months,” she says. “I didn't know how to walk and my vocal cords were also paralyzed. I had to go to speech therapy and occupational therapy to learn to use my hands again.”

It was an experience her mother, Aisha, had never expected. But amidst the sudden change in all their lives, the family found joy within the halls of the hospital.

While Zayna received various therapies to help regain movement and her ability to walk, her care team personalized her sessions with activities and exercises that catered to her interests – making the entire process less daunting.

No longer was rehabilitation just about standard exercises and movements; it was about incorporating her favourite things into her day-to-day. From making Halal tacos to choreographing a full Bollywood dance, to enjoying movie nights and accessible park walks, Zayna's journey was filled with moments that still let her be a kid.

And it wasn't just the therapies that made Zayna's experience memorable: it was the genuine care and compassion of the staff. When reflecting on the highlights of her stay, Zayna is sure to thank her physiotherapist.

While she was an impatient at Holland Bloorview, Zayna’s family decided to move. She and her physiotherapist set a goal to see her bedroom one last time before the family moved.

“I was telling her, ‘I guess I can't go into my room because I can't get up the stairs,’ and she said, ‘No, we can make that happen,’” recalls Zayna.

“We practiced every day on the stairs in the hospital gym. And then she encouraged me to try the stairs in the stairwell. I was surprised because I actually got to see my room one more time because of how I practiced in the stairwells every day.”

And that wasn’t only the positive interaction she encountered. From the child life specialist who shared his family's butter tart recipe after Zayna mentioned she had a craving, to the therapist who patiently taught Zayna how to navigate her wheelchair, every interaction left a lasting impact.

For a family navigating the complexities of cancer treatment this unwavering support meant everything.

“We never had even one bad experience through our entire stay,” says Aisha, Zayna’s mother. “To the point where I was just so shocked. I didn't even feel like we were in a hospital. It felt like we were in a hotel.”

In fact, the family’s experience was so accommodating, that Aisha recalls never feeling alone during Ramadan as she was eating in the early hours of the morning. “Someone was always there to ask if I needed anything,” Aisha says.  

Today, Zayna is cancer free. From the start of rehabilitation to the end, Zayna progressed from being paralyzed, to walking independently by the time she left through the doors.

And while she is no longer a client of the hospital, Zayna wants to continue spreading awareness and sharing her positive experience with others facing similar challenges. Her advice?

“Always be positive,” she says. “I think that's what got me do everything because I was really positive.”