Sophia King Gillis

Reunited: Sophia and Dr. Dhanani

It’s been more than ten years since Sophia King Gillis and her parents, Bill and Laurel, met Dr. Sonny Dhanani at CHEO. Sophia was five years old and was brought in running a very high fever and experiencing hallucinations.

That was November 3, 2006.

During the drive to the hospital Sophia’s eyes were half open and seemingly vacant, she said, “Mummy, I can’t see.”

Upon arrival to the Emergency Department, Sophia was quickly taken into a trauma room.

It was like something out of a TV show, her parents recall. “They were pulling off her clothes, starting an IV – it was all happening so fast,” Laurel says. “We still remember it like it was yesterday.”
Sophia was taken to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). A CT scan revealed her brain was dangerously swollen. It was suspected she had both meningitis and encephalitis which can have devastating side effects including blindness, deafness, brain trauma and nerve damage which can result in amputations.

Sophia was placed on life support and given 21 different drugs. Bill and Laurel were in a whirlwind. Family and friends immediately swooped in to help, including caring for their son Cameron while they spent the next five days at CHEO by Sophia’s side.

They remember Dr. Dhanani’s words to them that night as he placed a hand gently on Laurel’s back. “He said, ‘I can’t promise she’ll make it through the night, but I can promise you we are going to do everything we can to help her’,” she recalls. “As parents in that situation, we held on to every thread of hope. It had to be enough.”

Sophia’s recovery was nothing short of miraculous. She went home after 21 days, spared from any debilitating side effects of her illness.

A decade later, Sophia returned to CHEO to thank the doctor who saved her life. They settle into conversation like old friends. She is the picture of health: a bright-eyed 16 year old with long brown hair and freckles. She talks about being on the cheer squad at her school and running track, her part time job and her big brother. A lot can happen in ten plus years. “I owe you my life,” Sophia states simply. “Without you and your team I wouldn’t be here. I’m so grateful.”

This is a different experience for Dr. Dhanani as well. “We remember our patients but our relationship is often with the parents because the kids we see are either too small or too sick,” he says. “We’re happy when they move on to the wards and then home, but we don’t connect in the same way. This is incredible!”

Bill says the experience still resonates deeply with the family. “The absolute world-class medical care along with the professional and compassionate support from all the staff at CHEO, plus the help from our family and friends was, and continues to be, overwhelming,” he says. “We’re so fortunate to have a hospital like CHEO nearby.”

Laurel echoes that sentiment. “When you walk through those doors with a sick child like we did, the ground below you disappears. The team at CHEO did what they had to do to save Sophia, but they did it with kindness and understanding. Our CHEO experience was a reminder that there are so many good people in the world.”

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