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Keeping the Faith

Faith Swinkels-MacLean and her family are heading to Walt Disney World in Florida, courtesy of the Children’s Wish Foundation. Antigonish foundation representative Gary Cusack, right, made the presentation to Faith, her mother Jillian, sisters Dakota and Quinn, and grandmother Pam MacLean on Christmas Eve at 989 XFM in Antigonish. Corey LeBlanc
Faith Swinkels-MacLean and her family are heading to Walt Disney World in Florida, courtesy of the Children’s Wish Foundation. Antigonish foundation representative Gary Cusack, right, made the presentation to Faith, her mother Jillian, sisters Dakota and Quinn, and grandmother Pam MacLean on Christmas Eve at 989 XFM in Antigonish. Corey LeBlanc - Corey LeBlanc

Children’s Wish Foundation makes dream come true for Antigonish teenager

ANTIGONISH, N.S. —

ANTIGONISH - What’s in a name? In Romeo and Juliet, one of William Shakespeare’s classics, the female lead poses that question.     
For Faith Swinkels-MacLean, the answer is more than you could ever imagine.     
Her family and friends, every step of the way, have shared the deepest faith as the teenager has endured almost a decade of seemingly  endless hurdles when it comes to her health.     
“She is so strong, so tough,” her proud mother Jillian Swinkels said.     
In the spring of 2010, the then seven-year-old Grade 1 student woke up one morning with a headache; three days later, Faith was diagnosed with herpes encephalitis, a swelling of the brain that is often fatal.     
The virus virtually destroyed the frontal lobe of her brain, an area that governs everything from aggression and impulse control to compulsivity and thought processing.     
Faith also has severe refractory epilepsy, which causes seizures.     
“There are ups and downs,” Jillian said, when asked about her eldest daughter’s health.     
During the past two-and-a-half years, the 16-year-old has endured 14 surgeries; not to mention the diagnosis of a rare autoimmune disease. “She is really a very happy young woman,” Faith’s grandmother Pam MacLean said, despite the ongoing health challenges.     
One of the keys to that happiness continues to be her time at Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional High School, where she is a second-year student.                                                                        “She loves going to school,” Jillian said. “It is important for her to have those social interactions” when reflecting on how attending Regional benefits Faith.
Her ability to communicate has also improved steadily.     
“It is really nice for everybody,” Jillian said of Faith’s ability to deliver her message more and more. 

Meeting Cinderella      
Less than one week after her most recent surgery, Faith, along with her mother, grandmother and younger sisters Dakota and Quinn, dropped by Antigonish-based radio station 989 XFM on Christmas Eve.     
On that holiday morning, Gary Cusack, the Children’s Wish Foundation Antigonish representative, made Faith’s wish come true.     
She and her family leave for Orlando, Florida, Jan. 2, for a week-long stay at Walt Disney World.     
“Faith has been watching a lot of Disney movies,” Jillian said, with a laugh, in describing her daughter’s preparation for the trip.     
She noted meeting Cinderella – “her favourite princess” – tops Faith’s to-do list for the dream-come-true journey.     
“Given that Faith has been in and out of the hospital quite a bit this year, it is really going to be a great time where we can forget all that stuff and spend some time together as a family,” Jillian said.     
“Everyone is really excited; they have been counting down the days for at least a couple weeks.”     
To date, almost $40,000 has been collected to help grant Faith’s wish.     
“We have always had tremendous support but this year, in Antigonish, it is the best that we have ever had – unbelievable,” Cusack said.                                                                                  He added, “the interest and money kept pouring in.”     
“When they found out who the wish was for – the family is well-known – people supported us in any way that they could,” Cusack said.     
To illustrate the high level of support provided here, he noted this year Antigonish raised more money than the Halifax chapter.     
“We can never thank the community enough for their support,” Cusack said, describing the businesses in the area as “unbelievable.”       
He added the list of people to thank is endless, including 989 XFM and general manager Ken Farrell, who hosted the special occasion wish presentation.     
“Emotional,” Cusack said, as tears welled in his eyes, when asked what helping grant wishes means to him.     
He described Faith and her family as “amazing.”     
“You look at the community in a different way,” Cusack added.      
Noting he already appreciated the generosity and specialness found here, he said his involvement with the Children’s Wish Foundation deepened his belief that Antigonish is “an amazing community.”     
Jillian said Antigonish has supported Faith and their family “from the very beginning.”     
“It is really great how everyone pulls together and does something so wonderful that (we) wouldn’t necessarily get to experience otherwise,” she said.
 

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