Little Ryah Hope clutches a toddler’s cup with water in it. A gentle finger touches his jaw and strokes his throat in a downward motion as he is reminded to suck, not chew, on the straw. At first he struggles to figure out how to use the straw, but soon he remembers.
From across the dining room, you can see him swallowing sips of water.
This might not be a big deal for your average three-year-old, but it is for Ryah who only recently started taking food and drink by mouth.
Ryah nearly died following a drowning in Cultus Lake on June 1. He had wandered away from his family’s lakefront house on his bike and mom Natalie Hope figures he was underwater for about 15 to 20 minutes before she and husband Cameron found him, pulled him from the water and started performing CPR.
In the weeks that followed, all Ryah could do was lie in a hospital bed. His head was floppy, he had a feeding tube, and he wasn’t very alert.
All that changed following six weeks of hyperbaric oxygen treatment he had in Louisiana with Dr. Paul Harch, something that’s not covered by health care for drowning patients, Natalie said.
The treatment is done in a chamber where pressurized oxygen is pumped in. For Ryah, he went inside the chamber once a day, five days a week, with one of his parents for 50 minutes each time.
“It kind of gives an influx of oxygen to the brain. The science behind it is that, with brain injuries, if you catch it soon after the event and those cells are still in the transition of dying and you give them oxygen, then they are able to wake up and gain function.”
She said that was exactly what they saw with Ryah.
“As soon as we started doing it, little by little, day by day, he was able to move his neck, able to lift his head.”
They also did physical therapy and stem cell treatment while they were in the States.
The Hopes recently moved from Abbotsford to a rancher in Yarrow where it’s easier for the three-year-old to get around.
Ryah can now pull himself up into a sitting position by himself when he’s lying on the floor, can stay sitting up on his own, is able to walk with the help of a walker, can pick up and plunk toys into containers, and can eat some soft solid foods that are fed to him.
He wasn’t able to do any of that before the hyperbaric oxygen treatment.
“He’s improving at a crazy fast, fast rate. It’s really, really encouraging.”
Natalie said her family is grateful to everyone who donated to a GoFundMe so they could charter a $65,000 one-way medical flight, plus pay $8,000 for a travel nurse to go with them to Louisiana for the hyperbaric oxygen treatment.
She said “the faith and the hope” was that they would not need a medical flight coming home after treatment, and turns out they didn’t because Ryah had progressed so much.
The family has since bought an in-home hyperbaric oxygen treatment chamber for Ryah which he’ll be using for at least the next two years.
Natalie said they are now looking into a nervous system-based physical therapy called Masgutova Neurosensorimotor Reflex Integration (MNRI) that will best help his mobility. Like the hyperbaric oxygen treatment, MNRI is also not covered in Canada.
They have a fundraiser coming up on Nov. 4 called ‘Ryah’s Revival: Journey to Recovery’ at Cheam Source for Sports to help pay for treatments, therapy and other medical expenses. It is a ticketed event where people will be able to meet Ryah and the Hope family, bid on silent- and live-auction items, and hear about the charity that the Hopes want to launch to help other families like them.
“We feel so grateful because I know in my heart that he wouldn’t be where he is right now if we hadn’t gone and done this… and gone broke trying to get him to where he is,” Natalie said. “But, I feel like it’s kind of paving the way for other families. They can learn from our horrible situation and do things differently.”
Ryah, who is currently non-verbal, will turn four just three days after the fundraiser. She’s hoping he will be able to start Kindergarten next September.
“If we can get him there and he doesn’t have to lack that experience then my heart will be really happy.”
The ‘Ryah’s Revival’ fundraiser is Saturday, Nov. 4 from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Cheam Source for Sports. Tickets are $50 and can be purchased at eventbrite.com. To donate to the family, go to gofundme.com/f/ryahs-revival. To learn more about Ryah and his medical expenses, go to ryasrevival.com.