Nova Scotia

Chronically ill children in Cape Breton tap into new social network

Upopolis Network gives young patients access to information helping them understand their diagnosis

Upopolis Network gives young patients access to information helping them understand their diagnosis

Cape Breton Regional Hospital child life specialist Tracy Warren-Salt demonstrates how Upopolis works. (Yvonne Leblanc-Smith/CBC)

Chronically ill children in Cape Breton have a new social network available to them.

The Upopolis Network was created and funded by the non-profit Kids Health Links Foundation based in Toronto.

Coordinator Krista Naugler said it gives young patients access to medical content that helps them understand their diagnosis.

"What makes it unique is that we have child life specialists working on the site, vetting information and sharing it with youth so that it is age appropriate and reliable," she said. 

Patient connections

The social media platform is for patients aged 10 to 18 who have life-threatening diseases such as cancer, cystic fibrosis, diabetes or asthma.

Tracy Warren-Salt, a child life specialist in the pediatrics unit at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital, has been trained on the program.

She said it allows sick children to connect with others with similar health issues, which is especially therapeutic for rural children who rarely meet others with the same sickness.

"So they feel like they are not alone," she said. "Each child that we bring on to our site will have their own page and they can connect to something that is similar to them, whether they have asthma, cystic fibrosis, or are oncology patients."

More hospitals to gain access

Patients can use their own devices, or the pediatric unit's computer or tablet.

Kids Health Links Foundation and TELUS Health launched the program in 2007 at McMaster Children's Hospital in Hamilton, Ont.

Since then it has expanded to 24 hospitals across Canada and more than 2,500 youth have been able to access the network.

Naugler said it is being rolled out in Quebec, followed by community hospitals in P.E.I. and New Brunswick. is Canada's only private and secure online social network designed for kids and teens receiving medical care in hospitals and clinics.

About the Author

Yvonne Leblanc-Smith

Yvonne LeBlanc-Smith has been reporting news in Cape Breton since 1981. You can follow her on Twitter @leblancsmith and reach her at