Joel Grimard was born with half a heart, but his story has touched countless hearts across the globe. You may recognize Joel from WestJet’s Father’s Day Surprise video, where we shared the story of a family who has stayed the most cumulative nights at Ronald McDonald House® Northern Alberta. On Saturday, March 28, Angela called RMHNA home for the 950th night since September 16, 2009.
Joel arrived happy and seemingly healthy on August 10, 2009. Marc, Joel’s father, and big brother Mathieu left Angela and Joel to spend the night in hospital. Angela awoke during the night to hospital staff saying that Joel was showing signs of distress and was headed for the NICU. He was diagnosed with Hypoplastic Right Heart Syndrome and a secondary heart condition.
During all of Joel’s eight heart surgeries and numerous other surgical procedures, the Grimard family would stay at RMHNA. Angela and Joel had to stay in Edmonton while Marc and Matthieu commuted from Saskatoon as often as they could. During this time, breathing struggles and excess fluids continued to tax Joel’s circulatory system and heart. In June 2014, Joel was placed on the transplant list for a new heart.
Because of extra fluids that his body couldn’t regulate, Joel’s fluid intake was severely restricted. He was constantly denied the one thing he wanted most: water. When Angela asked what Joel wanted to be for Halloween, he said, “A bottle of water.” At the Halloween parade at the Stollery Children’s Hospital, Joel dressed as a bright blue bottle of Dasani water.
Joel was discharged to stay at RMHNA in November of 2014, and the family faced the strong possibility of celebrating Christmas in Edmonton. Santa came for a very magical visit to RMHNA in December. When asked for his Christmas list, Joel surprised us again: Bottled water, socks, pickles and to get better. Our friends at Coca-Cola, bottlers of Dasani water, caught word of Joel’s passion for their product. A few days later, the family was miraculously able to go home to Saskatoon for Christmas, a Dasani care package arrived complete with bottled water, t-shirts, bags and other goodies. Joel held the package tight knowing that he would be allowed to drink as much water as he liked once he received a transplant.
January 14, 2015, dawned with a phone call to the Grimard family in Saskatoon. There was a heart for Joel. After a plane ride to Edmonton, surgery began just before 4 p.m. that day and continued long into the night. When Dr. Ross came to deliver an update, Joel’s family heard the words they had longed to hear: this heart was the perfect heart for him. Joel’s first word after his surgery was, “Water.”
Joel is still in hospital, but he’s getting stronger and eating more every day. He continues to love water and drinks more now than ever before. Joel is a constant reminder of why we refer to the kids at RMHNA as House Heroes.