Strangers rally around Grande Prairie family of baby with multiple health issues

Five-week-old Elijah Banman arrived home in Grande Prairie on Thursday after his first open-heart surgery at the Children's Stollery Hospital in Edmonton.

Infant home after heart surgery at Edmonton Children's Stollery

Elijah Banman was born with a range of severe health problems including an enlarged kidney and a heart condition. (Ben Banman)

Five-month-old Elijah Banman arrived home in Grande Prairie on Thursday after his first open-heart surgery at the Stollery Children's Hospital in Edmonton.

"To be honest the last few months have been absolutely crazy," said Elijah's father, Ben Banman. "Not much time to sit down and relax and enjoy the family, not much time to do anything that we truly enjoy."

Elijah was born at a weight of two pounds, 13 ounces. His parents soon found his stunted growth was only the beginning of his health problems. 

Elijah's mother Valory Schultz was 25 weeks pregnant when his parents were told he had Trisomy 18, a chromosomal defect associated with severe medical complications. Most babies born with Trisomy 18 don't survive their first year of life. 

"We were told that he might not even make it to birth and so we dealt with a quite substantial grieving process," Banman said.

Later, tests revealed that Elijah did not have Trisomy 18, though he did have similar symptoms. 

After Elijah came home, he was twice rushed back to hospital because he was struggling to breathe.

During the second incident, he briefly stopped breathing altogether.

He also has an enlarged kidney and a heart defect called tetralogy of fallot, a combination of four related heart defects that causes low oxygen in the blood. 

Banman said that when Elijah gets upset the condition can cause "the blood to shoot past the lungs" and lead to more serious health problems.

'I'd love to see this community come together'

Over the summer Banman was working for a local sheet metal company on the new hospital in Grande Prairie, but was laid off after construction halted in September.

Since then, he's been selling handmade woodworking crafts and shovelling snow to earn extra income.

Tavia Vegso, who lives in Grande Prairie, said she didn't know the family, but saw Banman's posts online searching for work and it inspired her to help.

"He was like, 'Are there any driveways I can shovel for extra money? For new tires for my car, so I can get down to Edmonton.'

"I just was following the story, because I couldn't even imagine if it was my child," she said.

But his work wasn't covering the medical and travel expenses for Elijah's care so Banman started a GoFundMe​ page to raise more money.

It only had a few donations when Carly Lively, a friend of Vegso, posted a call for money in a local Facebook group.

"I'm just curious why a GoFundMe​ for a girl who vandalized a historic wall gets more donations than a sick baby in Grande Prairie," she wrote, referring to Brittney Schneider, a young Grande Prairie woman arrested for spraying graffiti on a historic wall in northern Thailand. Schneider's mother started the fundraiser after the arrest.

Lively's post said she wanted to do more to support the Banman family than sending well wishes.

"Christmas is coming and I'd love to see this community come together for them," she wrote.

Vegso said attention for Elijah spiralled raising more than half of the $10,000 funding goal and the post received hundreds of likes.

"It was unreal," she said.

"You just try and get them the best care you can," Vesgo said, "At least his family is around him right now."

Banman said Elijah will go back to the Stollery in Edmonton next week to treat his enlarged kidney, but he should be back home for the holidays.

"We plan to bring him home and have Christmas with [us]," he said. "It'll be a good one."