Kids’ Health Links Foundation (KHLF) is a grassroots charitable foundation. Its founding was inspired by the medical experiences of two teenage friends: Christina Papaevangelou and Katy McDonald. In February 2002, Christina, an active and healthy teenager, fell critically ill over the span of three days. Doctors were baffled at the sudden collapse of her health. Her condition grew more critical and life-threatening, when thankfully, a doctor at Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital recognized the sequence of symptoms as evidence of Toxic Shock Syndrome, a massive blood infection.
Christina was immediately rushed to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario. Critically ill for 48 hours, her health gradually began to improve. She remained hospitalized for a number of weeks and experienced the "side effects" often felt by pediatric patients during prolonged hospital stays -- a feeling of disconnection from family and friends, and the inability to keep up with her schoolwork. Soon, with the attentive care of the medical staff at McMaster Children’s, Christina made a full recovery and was able to integrate back into her school and social circles.
Not long after her own scary medical experience, one of Christina’s closest friends, 16-year-old Katy McDonald, was diagnosed with a rare sarcoma cancer. The original tumor was removed but, after a period of time, the cancer returned in the form of multiple brain tumors. The plan was to remove as many of the tumors as possible, followed by radiation, chemo and a stem cell transplant. Katy’s family and friends lived in Burlington, Ontario, an hour's drive from The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto, where Katy was being treated.
It was very important to Katy to keep in touch with her friends while she was going through the most difficult experience of her life. She didn’t want to miss out on what was going on in the lives of those in her social circles outside the walls of the hospital. At the time, social media and real-time messaging platforms were just beginning to emerge as a popular way of staying connected. Her parents bought her a laptop and Katy used the hospital’s dial-up Internet service to contact her network of friends and family through email and instant messaging. Though bedridden, using the power of technology, she was able to stay connected, and up-to-date with schoolwork too. A few of the teachers had created websites that covered their courses, and Katy was able to email her assignments to the school. Katy eventually lost her incredibly brave battle with cancer, but while she was able, she didn’t lose touch with her friends and family, when she most needed to experience a sense of connection to those important to her.
It became obvious to Christina and her father Basile that the sense of separation and the desire to be connected experienced by both Christina and Katy was not unique to their situations, but characteristic for hospitalized youth, especially those with long-term hospitalization or living with chronic illness. Kids' Health Links Foundation was created to answer this need and launched Upopolis in 2007; using social technology to alleviate the isolation and loneliness felt by hospitalized and chronically ill youth in Canada, and keep them connected with their family and friends. The Foundation’s mission and its programs have expanded since its founding and continue to evolve.
Since it’s founding, KHLF has also developed 2 other technology platforms; one for child life specialists (Upedia) and other other for child and youth mental health professionals (Umind). Both these sites enable the professionals they serve to connect with one another, share best practices, and access tools and resources to help them provide better care to the populations they work with.
Kids' Health Links Foundation believes that positive emotional well-being can be fostered by maintaining family connections and encouraging active social participation. By providing technology that enables this well-being, and supports the healthcare professionals who can further encourage it, we hope to help children and teens, across the country, heal faster and better overcome traumatic medical experiences.