The Most Precious Gift

It was a clear, starry night this past November 21, when the community came out in droves to celebrate the completion of a project that has captivated our collective hearts for over two years. Built and now operated entirely by the generosity of the people of this community and from across the southern interior region, the lights were officially turned on at JoeAnna’s House.

JoeAnna’s House Grand Opening – Nov. 21, 2019

Just four days later, on November 25, the first family arrived, desperately in need of a safe, warm place to stay near Kelowna General Hospital where a beloved son, husband and father fought to recover from a devastating traumatic accident in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). The family had already been in Kelowna for over four weeks.

For Cam Klassen, October 21 began like any other typical, rainy fall day in Westwold BC, a small community close to his home in Enderby. The 31-year-old carpenter was working on a hayshed roof with a friend. But in a moment, everything changed.

Cam slipped on the wet roof and fell to the ground, 22 ft. below. His friend also fell, but was unhurt, and quickly called 9-1-1. The Air Ambulance was dispatched directly to the farm, and Cam was flown to Kelowna General Hospital, the main referral hospital for emergency trauma for the southern interior region. His injuries were extensive, but the most concerning was the trauma to his brain.

He was sedated and placed in a medically induced coma.

That night, Cam’s wife, Heather, tried to comprehend the gravity of Cam’s condition. So many doctors, broken bones, bleeding in the brain – the list seemed endless. Heather leaned into her faith.

“All we could do was pray. I just prayed that his brain would be OK.”

Heather Klassen (right) and her family photographed inside JoeAnna’s House

Soon, her prayers began to include their two small children: four-year-old-daughter, Jaci, and one-year-old son, Kade who Heather had to leave in Armstrong with friends. It broke her heart to be away from them. She did her best, with the help of her parents, Larry and Marion, to commute back and forth, to be there for Cam and their children, but the stress was overwhelming.

“When the person you love is fighting for his life, you feel like you have to be strong, but inside I felt like I almost died too. I was numb.”

Meanwhile, friends and family in the Klassen’s tight-knit Mennonite community in Enderby were doing whatever they could to help their fallen brother and his family. By grace, there was already a well-established friendship between their church and the KGH Foundation.

KGH Volunteers and members of the Klassens’ Mennonite community

For years, the Klassen’s Mennonite community in Enderby has been host to young men from across the U.S. and Canada who provide service as part of their faith commitment. Many of these young men choose to volunteer at KGH, and as a result, a deep relationship has formed between Director of Business Enterprises, Nancy Wells, and the Mennonite host families in Enderby.

In the weeks leading up to the JoeAnna’s House grand opening, Nancy was busy organizing volunteers to help prepare for the home’s first guests. It wasn’t long before Nancy learned about the Klassens from her young Mennonite volunteers and their host families.

Being from a small farming community in rural Alberta herself (ironically, the same small town that Cam’s parents came from), and having taken the young men under wing for many years, Nancy felt a kinship toward this family. They needed help.

Cam lay in a coma for nearly three weeks. On Nov. 9, he woke up.

Still two weeks from opening day, Nancy reached out to the KGH social worker assigned to Cam’s case and began the process of ensuring that Heather, Jaci, Kade, Larry and Marion would be welcomed to JoeAnna’s House as soon as it was ready to receive guests.

“We called them our Kelowna unit,” laughs Heather. “Nancy Wells and the boys – they were our angels. JoeAnna’s House is so beautiful and the staff are so caring, coming here has been such a relief, there are no words. Being with my children… well, it’s helped mend a little part of my broken heart.”

“You have given me the most precious gift… being together with my children, while staying close to Cam.” – Heather Klassen, photographed with her family outside of JoeAnna’s House.

“What would I say to the donors who made this possible? ‘Thank you’ just seems too feeble. I am grateful beyond measure. You have given me the most precious gift…being together with my children while staying close to Cam.”

JoeAnna’s House is a remarkable gift in so many ways. It will continue to stand as a symbol of what can be accomplished when we work together. And as the days go by, and more families pass through its doors, more stories will emerge that will remind us that, despite what seems like an ever more complicated and disconnected world, there is never really much degree of separation between us.

Our village might seem bigger, but the values we share don’t change. Families helping families. We are always better together.

After nearly two months at KGH, Cam was discharged on December 19, and was able to spend the holidays at home in Enderby.