Six Nations woman on wait for new lungs

By Victor Martisius

What defines strength? In some instances strength is defined by physical ability, but Six Nations resident Jessica Henhawk is proving that sometimes having strength means more than what you can lift. Holding her head high at the Toronto General Hospital, Jessica patiently awaits her second lung transplant.

“Some people say why me? I’m just thinking Why not me? What makes me any different? It could happen to anyone.” Says Jessica. “There are kids at Sick Kids [Hospital] across the street who are way worse off than me and they’re still smiling.”

Jessica has been battling lung complications since her late teen years but has never let it stop her from living life.

“I got diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis when I was 20 – which usually hits people who are in their 60’s; so it’s kind of odd that it happened to me.” said Jessica. “It was a slow progression from when I was 20 [years old] to 33 [years old] when I had my [first] transplant.”

For a time, all was well until March break of 2016 when Jessica visited California for a family vacation.

“I went to California for March break last year with my family and I got sick there. We didn’t have [travelers] health insurance so we waited till we got back.” She explains, “we got back on a Sunday evening and we all just crashed and went to bed. In the morning I could not breath at all so we called the ambulance and they put me in the ICU at Brantford General Hospital. I had Pneumonia, Influenza A and Blood Clots in my lungs”

The staff at Brantford General Hospital corresponded with the staff at Toronto General Hospital to ensure they were taking appropriate steps in Jessica’s treatment.

“I got released from the hospital but from that day on I was in and out of the hospital every month. A week here, two weeks there.” Said Jessica Henhawk. “It’s just come to this now, where talking and walking can make my heart rate go really high.”

Stationed at Toronto General Hospital, Jessica is completely bedridden as many daily activities put her at risk of fainting.

“It’s very frustrating for me daily, I can’t go and close the curtain when I want to or go to that bathroom and take a shower.” Said Jessica Henhawk. “Now my mom has to help me bath because washing my hair makes me really out of breath.”

Despite struggling with many complications, positivity radiates from Jessica as she deals with the uncertainty of her situation.

“This is what life has brought me.” Said Jessica Henhawk. “I’d rather be positive than negative.”

Over the last year, Jessica has had two transplant false alarms.

“The first time I had a transplant I had three false alarms.” Explains Jessica. “This last time, I was in the operating room and they were ready to sedate me, but then the phone rang and they said stop.”

The uncertainty of the transplant date has made Jessica wise when it comes to her excitement level.

“I’ve learned not to get my hopes too high because you never know what’s going to happen.” She says. “I was in the operating room, laying on the bed ready to be put out and it couldn’t happen [at that time].”

Carrying the burden of Pulmonary Fibrosis for so long has taught her to accept that it is a large part of her life.

“I actually think it’s more of a rollercoaster for my family than me right now.” Said Jessica. “My daughter was here when we got the [false alarm] call and she cried. I told her we just have to follow the creator’s plan and the creator will take care of it.”

While Jessica is in Toronto, her entire family is banding together to ensure that they are able to react quickly should anything arise at the hospital. They are also doing their best to keep life at home running as smoothly as possible.

Cindy Henhawk, Jessica’s mother, has been the driving force behind the family’s correspondence with Jessica in Toronto. She keeps home life organized and helps Jessica with anything she needs at the hospital.

“Jessica needs me to help her with her exercises so she can be in the best shape possible in case we get a call.” Says Cindy. “Many times we’ve had to take her daughter out of school with homework because we couldn’t make arrangements so I had to bring her with me.”

Many sacrifices have been made by the Henhakws but they are not alone in their fight to ensure that Jessica regains her health.

“My niece, Crystal Seth, has set up a go fund me page on her Facebook.”Cindy explains. “My son in law, Louis, used to work at Features in Stratford and they are doing a spaghetti fundraiser for them.”

The people of Six Nations have also been a big support to the Henhawks throughout Jessica’s struggle.

“This community just pulls together in a time of need, it’s unbelievable.” Says Cindy about Six Nations. “The compassion and sincerity that we’re receiving is amazing, I just love this community.”

Cindy is currently looking to gain as much support as she can from the community and surrounding areas to raise awareness for Jessica’s story and funds to support the transplant unit at Toronto General Hospital.

As daily life continues for the Henhawk family here on Six Nations, Jessica patiently waits for her new lungs with a smile on her face- choosing always to stay positive and proving that strength does not always come in physical form.

“Don’t give up.” Explains Jessica Henhawk. “Always have hope.”

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