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Teen on the mend after colitis battle

After being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at seven years old, one local teenager is happily in remission after years of treatment. The journey to get to that point wasn't an easy one and required help from many sources.
Kalena Samaai
Submitted photo Kalena Samaai, 16, is in remission from ulcerative colitis. It was a long road to recovery and it took lots of help to get there.

After being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at seven years old, one local teenager is happily in remission after years of treatment.

The journey to get to that point wasn't an easy one and required help from many sources.

Kalena needed specialized treatment that included attending at BC Children's Hospital several times a year.

Kathy Samaai, Kalena's mom, said it was a scary time for the family when Kalena was first diagnosed on her seventh birthday.

Ulcerative colitis is rarely diagnosed in someone her age.

The trouble started about six months before the diagnosis when Kalena started getting fevers for no apparent reason. She was in pain and began having bloody stool that prompted her family to take her to the local emergency room on a regular bases.

Kalena was only six years old and needed specialized tests like an endoscopy and a colonoscopy. 

Those procedures are not done in Prince George in children and the she needed to go to Vancouver.

"It’s a 12-hour drive,” Samaai said. “Our car wasn’t new and I was working full time and worried about missing work.”

Once diagnosed the proposed treatment options were not ideal and while one involved an invasive surgery that involved installing a stoma bag that sits outside the body, the other was a biochemical infusion that comes with risk of side effects.

"Kalena always liked to swim, especially synchronized swimming and just loves the water so wearing a bag was not ideal," Samaai said. 

As a family it was decided that the biochemical infusions would be used for treatment, as long as Kalena's system would accept it.

"But of course with the biochemical comes side effects like a sensitivity to sun, for example," Samaai said. "So she had to stay out of the sun or cover up really well to avoid burning because that could lead to cancer."

The treatment was administered at BC Children's Hospital and would continue every eight weeks for the foreseeable future.

The trips by car down south were all right until winter hit and that was when hospital staff told Samaai about Hope Air to help with flights to and from treatments.

“When I called Hope Air it was a good experience,” Samaai said, “The staff was easy to connect with and our flight was booked. That was in 2012 and we have been flying with Hope Air ever since. We just couldn’t have done it without Hope Air.” 

Before that first trip. Kalena had never even been on a plane. She and her mother have made 75 trips with Hope Air to date.

Kalena is now 16, currently in remission and feeling good. 

She is a volleyball player and a swimmer working on getting her lifeguard certification. Kalena wants to go into medicine when she's older and once the coronavirus pandemic is over she looks forward to life guarding to earn money for her tuition.