There’s a dance party happening in the play room at Matthew’s House. Harveen and Linda Pannu are holding hands, moving to the rhythmic bhangra tunes coming from the iPod. The smile on Harveen’s face lets everyone know that she’s having a good time.
Harveen has been diagnosed with autism and is non-verbal. It can be difficult to communicate with her. The 13-year-old is unsteady on her feet – which is why she needs a dance partner – and she needs someone to help her with personal care and feeding.
To her parents, Hardeep and Harbans Pannu, Harveen is special.
“In many ways, she is our whole world,” said mother Harbans.
When Harveen was born, she wasn’t breathing and ended up on life support. It was very difficult for Harbans and Hardeep to see their newborn daughter struggling for life. The doctors felt that Harveen would not live and recommended that she be removed from life support, but Harbans could not do it.
“She was our first child,” Harbans explained. “I prayed that she would start breathing on her own. I wanted her to live.”
Harbans’s prayers were answered. She often wonders why she was so adamant that her daughter not be removed from life support.
“Now I see that it was because she was meant to live,” Harbans said. “She gives us joy. We are so happy that she pulled through.”
Still, caring for a child with complex health care issues can be exhausting. Because Hardeep is the main bread-winner for the family, Harveen’s care falls on Harban’s shoulders. Until Harveen came for a stay at Matthew’s House, Harbans was rarely without her and especially not overnight. It’s not just that Harbans avoided burdening others with Harveen’s care; she also did not know if she could trust another person to care for Harveen the way she did.
Thirteen years is a long time to go without a break, especially as the Pannu family has grown to include two more children.
Matthew’s House has become a welcome and much-needed resource for the family. The respite care home for children living with complex healthcare needs opened in Abbotsford in November 2013 and welcomed its first family a month later.
Harveen loves coming to the site. Her mother has noticed that Harveen seems healthier and often sleeps better after her stay at Matthew’s House. She also appreciates the respect that Hardeep and she have received as parents.
“I like it that I could stay with Harveen at first and see how she would be treated here,” Harbans said, adding that this is important for a parent’s peace of mind.
Harveen has had several visits to Matthew’s House and her parents are learning how important it is for them to get rest.
“Matthew’s House is a wonderful place,” Harbans said, her husband nodding in agreement. “The staff are very caring and I know that my child feels loved here.”