Some of the country’s smallest and sickest patients have passed through the doors of a Toronto-area hospice since it opened earlier this year — providing care and support to families with terminally ill children.

Emily’s House offers around-the-clock nursing care and support for people like Cherry Segubre, whose daughter Stephanie was born with a heart defect in May. She’s on oxygen and a feeding tube. Doctors are unable to treat her condition.

“They told us she has a short life, that she's not going to grow,” a tearful Segubre told CBC News. “Every day for us is a miracle and we're lucky there is Emily's House.”

More than 50 patients have come to the hospice since it opened in July — most for respite care. It is one of six children's hospices in Canada. 

“We've had parents say they feel like in this place you can breathe,” said executive director Rauni Salminen. “It's hopeful, it's happy, it's home-like. It's not institutional.”

The building itself has a much longer history. Since the mid-1800s, it was the official residence for the warden of the nearby Don Jail. The jail is closed now and its land will be turned into a park.

“I really hope that we become a space for families to feel safe and for kids to feel comfortable,” said nurse Chelsea Goldie. “So if it's pain and symptom management, if it's end of life or respite — somewhere they can really feel at home.”

Emily's House receives government funding for its core medical services but depends on donations for everything else it offers families.

From a report by CBC's Stephanie Matteis