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Mother of three runs marathon in memory of late husband

Matthew and Heidi Wilk with their children.
Matthew and Heidi Wilk with their children

It’s been four months since Heidi Wilk lost her husband, Matthew, to brain cancer, and less than one to go until the Chai Lifeline Half Marathon in Miami, which she is running in Matthew’s memory Jan. 24.

Wilk is now the sole parent to Brooke, 8, Zachary, 5, and Josh, 3. She works full time and writes a monthly blog. How does she do it? She says Chai Lifeline helps make it possible.

Chai Lifeline provides innovative year-round programs and services aimed at bringing joy back into the lives of seriously ill children and their families, but also to kids whose other family members have serious medical problems.

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The people at Chai Lifeline pride themselves on fighting illness with love, designing programs with creativity and delivering them with empathy.

“We’re looking to create a movement of people who care deeply about how illness can affect a family, whether it’s the parents that are sick, or our core group, children who are seriously or chronically ill,” Toronto executive director Mordechai Rothman says. “Our people really think about these things and what they can do to help.”

Two Chai Lifeline programs, Camp Simcha and Camp Simcha Special, both overnight camps, are designed to meet the medical and social needs of very sick children and teenagers.

But “it’s a challenge for an organization like ours to get the word out because we keep our clients confidential,” Rothman says. “Heidi is very outspoken about the support she has received.”

Wilk says the organization assesses the needs of a family, then finds a way to help. Initially, when she was juggling three children and becoming the family’s sole breadwinner, and subsequently, when she was providing palliative care to her husband at home, the program that fit was Penina’s Helping Hand, which helps the young children of a seriously ill parent.

Wilk recalls, for example, the time her son was picked up and driven to a Chai Lifeline “beach day” in King City, where the driver-volunteer got down in the sand to play and got messy painting.

She says it also helped that she could call her caseworker, Rifky Blau, if she hadn’t been out of the house with her children on a particular day.

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“My role as a Chai Lifeline Canada social worker is to make every family feel like they are my only family,” Blau says. “They can call me any time, and I am here for them every minute, every hour and every day, holding their hand and providing compassion and care through it all. Chai Lifeline has perfected this art of giving and providing support in a family-centred way. That means helping people when they need it – not between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

“Our kids and families inspire us to keep giving and we inspire them to move forward during difficult times.”

Wilk says palliative care and watching her husband die at home were “traumatizing.” Yet, she remains positive, her perspective on what’s important forever changed. “People don’t know how lucky they are just to have their health and enjoy the smaller things… watching a movie.”

Funds raised by the Team Lifeline half-marathon support Chai Lifeline programs. Wilk feels she is giving back to the organization and the community by raising sponsorship dollars.

To sponsor Heidi, click here.