Elmira’s Ella Dorscht and her brother Cameron saw a herd of wild big-horned sheep cross their path while on a bus in the Rocky Mountains earlier this month.
Ella and her family went on a trip of a lifetime through the Rocky Mountains courtesy of an organization called Starlight Canada. The 9-year-old has pulmonary hypertension, a rare heart condition. Her first surgery was hours after she was born, and she has continued to have regular surgeries. For much of her life she’s needed to be on oxygen 24/7.
Starlight Canada provides support to families of seriously ill children. One of the available activities is a train ride through the Rocky Mountains donated by the Rocky Mountaineer. It was an experience to remember.
“The best part to me was seeing all the views and all the animals and meeting all the new people,” said Cameron Dorscht, 11.
“Same,” said Ella.
The Dorscht siblings spoke about seeing the big horned sheep cross their path while on a bus. “We saw some on the train too,” said Cameron.
“They were up on the mountains,” added Ella.
“Absolutely amazing, it was spectacular,” said Kristen Dorscht, Ella’s mother. “My favourite part was honestly kind of feeling like things were normal again. So being around other people, which sounds kind of silly, but it was just really nice to be with other families in real life and not virtually or over the phone. It really felt like pre-pandemic,” she said.
“The scenery, obviously, was amazing. We had never been out west before,” said Dorscht. “There’s a space on the Rocky Mountaineer that you can go stand outside and get to experience, while standing outside, this awesome train trip. And there’s big glass domes as well in the cars of the Rocky Mountaineer so the view is just awesome. The entire time you’re on the train, it’s just absolutely gorgeous.
Dorscht says that living through the pandemic with the extra precautions and isolation was especially difficult.
“We had to be, you know, more careful than most and more isolated than most, so that part was difficult. But Ella’s back at school, loving life.” Ella is now enjoying Grade 4.
The two-day train trip took place October 5 and 6. The Dorscht family joined 12 other families who met up in Calgary. From there, the families took a bus to Banff, where they boarded the train, which took them from Banff to Kamloops. The next day, they went from Kamloops to Vancouver, and flew home from there.
Their trip is part of a longstanding arrangement between the charitable organization and the train company.
“Around 15 years ago, a Rocky Mountaineer train host was also a volunteer for Starlight Canada, and introduced our mission to the Rocky Mountaineer. In the first 10 years of partnering with Rocky Mountaineer, Starlight kids would take amazing day trips from Vancouver to Whistler. Now, for the past two years, Rocky Mountaineer has fully donated a two-day journey from Banff to Vancouver, giving Starlight children a luxurious, fun-filled adventure through the Canadian Rockies,” said Brian Bringolf, CEO of Starlight Children’s Foundation Canada, in an email.
Dorscht said Starlight Canada took care of all the details.
“I’m super type A. And I’m used to planning every little detail, but I didn’t have to do anything. Starlight looked after every little detail. So every meal, how you’re getting from the hotel to the airport. Literally every detail was taken care of.”
Starlight Canada provided activities and entertainment for all the kids, both the patients and their siblings.
“If you tell a joke, or do a dance or tell them something they didn’t know, you’d win a prize,” said Ella. Cameron added other activities included playing bingo or asking questions for prizes.
Ella demonstrated her joke: “What’s the difference between a guitar and a fish? You can’t tuna fish.”
“Starlight Children’s Foundation started in the United States when TV producer and filmmaker Peter Samuelson and his cousin, actress Emma Samms, fulfilled a young boy’s wish of travelling from London to Los Angeles to visit Disneyland and tour Hollywood. After being so enamored by the magic of the experience, they decided to start a wish granting organization,” said Bringolf.
“[The trip] definitely gave us something to look forward to,” said Dorscht. “Ella had a surgery this summer, and actually, Cameron, who is Ella’s brother, he had a surprise surgery too. He had his appendix taken out. It gave us something to look forward to, for sure.
“It was just tons of excitement. It was really great to spend some time with the family and do something that was fun. And it’s good for the kids too, I think, to be with other medical kids that are like themselves, so you don’t get to do that too often, right? So it was nice to be with other medical families as well.”
What’s next for the family?
“From a medical perspective, Ella will be starting some new medication shortly. And other than that, just sort of back to life. So back to school. Back to the office.”
“We’ve gone through a lot of tough times with Ella when she had all ten surgeries,” said Cameron. “It was a really tough time for all of us.”
The Dorscht family encourages people to donate to Starlight Children’s Foundation Canada. And also, “to keep the environment clean,” says Ella.