Gabriel Nikolakakis was born prematurely, at 26 weeks’ gestation, and didn’t meet milestones as a baby.
“We knew because he was born so early, he’s going to have long-term complications from his birth, but we really didn’t know what to expect,” Gabriel’s mother Fabiana Bacchini said, noting Gabriel didn’t roll over, lift his head or wave.
But it wasn’t until Gabriel was 20 months old that he was diagnosed with quadriplegia cerebral palsy.
“It was very scary … and I really just wished that I could fix him,” Bacchini said. “It is a process right from the day you hear the diagnosis to the day you embrace and realize that your child is the same child, nothing changed, just (he) has a label now.”
Ever since the diagnosis, Gabriel, now nine, has been a patient at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital where he sees a developmental pediatrician, attends multiple clinics and participates in research studies.
“They support him a lot, with all the technology, the wheelchair. Obviously, he doesn’t like the doctors’ appointments, but it’s part of his life,” Bacchini said.
Gabriel Nikolakakis participates in research studies and attends multiple clinics at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.Dan Pearce/Metroland
Holland Bloorview is embarking on a major project that it hopes will improve treatment for children with disabilities.
It recently began construction on the third and final phase of its largest research expansion: an 11,000-square-foot, two-storey addition that will be built on the north side of the hospital, at 150 Kilgour Rd.
The project is funded by an ongoing $32 million fundraising campaign that began in 2018. So far $23 million has been raised.
The first phase of the expansion included last year’s building of a fully accessible playground and the installation of Canada’s first research MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) suite that is immersive, customizable, child-friendly and fully accessible.
The second phase, which is well underway, involves the renovation of the Bloorview Research Institute’s research space on the hospital’s fourth floor.
Construction is expected to be completed by the summer of 2022.
Holland Bloorview clinician scientist and speech-language pathologist Deryk Beal said the research expansion is critical to maintaining the hospital’s position as a world leader in childhood disability and rehabilitation research.
“When the expansion is done, it is going to make it easier for us to attract even more high-quality scientists to come and join the BRI (Bloorview Research Institute) in the long-term, which will ultimately help us continue to grow our research capacity which is ultimately going to mean improved clinical care.”
Deryk Beal, a clinician scientist and speech-language pathologist at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, says this child-friendly MRI machine is one part of the hospital’s largest research expansion in its history.Dan Pearce/Metroland
Beal’s research uses tools such as MRI to develop and evaluate new treatments for childhood brain-based speech and language disorders.
Before the research MRI was installed in July, Beal said, he had to use other technologies like electroencephalography (EEG) or partner with other hospitals to use their MRI.
Beal, whose lab plans to scan 50 to 100 children over the next two years, said the research MRI suite is a comfortable, welcoming and accessible space for children and their families.
Nadia Tanel, BRI’s director of research growth and development, stressed “it’s not a privilege but a right for every child” to be able to participate in research. “And one of the biggest barriers in neurodevelopmental research is actually experiencing an MRI.”
Nadia Tanel, director of research growth and development at the Bloorview Research Institute, stands in the new accessible state-of-the-art playground at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital Dec. 4.Dan Pearce/Metroland
Tanel said the new space that’ll be created by the expansion will house nine “discovery hubs” which she described as “collaborative research space with state-of the-art” equipment.
“This expansion and the growth of our research institute will have a tremendous impact on childhood disability research here at the hospital as well as nationally and internationally.”
Bacchini said she’s hopeful the research expansion will one day benefit her son, who has a passion for singing and even has an Instagram account.
“I would love (for) them to find a cure for CP (cerebral palsy) at Bloorview,” she said. “I do hopes it benefits Gabriel in his lifetime (and) can give him a better quality of life.”
STORY BEHIND THE STORY: When reporter Andrew Palamarchuk learned that Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital began construction on the final phase of its largest research expansion, he wanted to find out how it would impact patient care in the future.