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Ava Hamilton

In early 2020, Ava Hamilton, who was then 16, started to have persistent nausea that would worsen after she ate something.

At first, Ava assumed that the symptoms were related to her anxiety, but she became concerned when she began having stomach pain, which led to her missing school and spending time with friends.

“I was scared and nervous because I knew how I was feeling wasn’t normal. My stomach shouldn’t have been hurting that much all the time,” says Ava.

That March, Ava was referred by her family doctor to the IWK’s Gastroenterology (GI) Clinic. She was given medication and fluids, underwent bloodwork, and received an ultrasound. Although Ava felt better afterwards, her symptoms returned, and she began to vomit blood. Her mom, Natasha, immediately took her to the IWK’s Emergency Department, where she was admitted as an inpatient.

Ava’s care team performed an endoscopy—a procedure that uses a flexible tube with a camera to see the lining of a person’s upper GI tract. The results showed that Ava had ulcers on the lining of her stomach that would bleed and cause pain when irritated. She was treated and was able to return home a few days later.

Unfortunately, five months later, Ava began to feel unwell again. Her mom brought her back to the IWK’s Emergency Department. She was admitted again and had additional tests performed to determine if something more was happening.

After additional testing, Ava was diagnosed with functional abdominal pain and cyclic vomiting syndrome (CVS). CVS is a disorder that causes sudden, repeated attacks—called episodes—of severe nausea and vomiting. It is a condition that may be associated with a migraine.

“One day, I could be feeling completely fine, and the next, I could be in debilitating pain and just bouts of throwing up for no reason,” explains Ava. “Without the IWK, I don’t know what we would have done.”

Ava, now 18, is back to living a relatively normal life with help from medications. Although her condition is manageable, she still struggles with pain episodes and occasionally experiences nausea and vomiting.

In 2021, Ava joined the Youth Advisory Council at the IWK, a group for IWK patients who share their experiences and offer support. The council meets monthly with a Child Life Specialist to share stories about their lives and experiences and plan things for inpatients, like the annual prom and birthday parties. She is grateful for the support of the IWK and the Youth Advisory Council.

“I actually wanted to be a lawyer for as long as I can remember, and then I got sick and experienced the care of the IWK and the Child Life Specialists there, and I thought, ‘That’s a really great job, and it seems very rewarding because you’re helping the children in the hospital setting,” says Ava.

Ava hopes that by sharing her story, she can raise awareness about the challenges of living with chronic illness as a teenager and encourage others to seek help when needed.


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