Touring Shriners promote Children’s Hospital

Tyler Clarke
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Melanie Baillairge and her daughter Maya Sottolinchio, 11, visited Prince Albert on Wednesday as part of the Shriners’ cross-Canada Exceptional Care Odyssey. 

When doctors told Melanie Baillairge that her newborn daughter’s foot had to go, she turned to the Shriners Hospital for Children in Montreal for help.


Diagnosed with fibular hemimelia -- a condition that left her daughter without a fibular bone in her leg -- specialists at the Shriners Hospital for Children helped spare young Maya Sottolinchio’s foot from amputation.

Now, 11 years later, Sottolinchio joined her mother this summer for a cross-Canada tour in promotion of the organization that has contributed so greatly to their family.

The mother-daughter Montreal-based duo have been following the Shriners’ car with a camper during a westbound trek across the nation -- a trip named the Exceptional Care Odyssey, and for which Baillairge quit her job to participate in.

During a Prince Albert stop on Wednesday morning, Baillairge enthusiastically gave Shriners praise for not only helping her daughter, but countless others she’s met during the tour so far.

“Sometimes you’ll see a funny hat passing by, but you don’t really realize what they’re doing; which is fundraising every day,” she said, referencing the red fez hats Shriners are known to wear. 

“It’s all about fun and children, and they have this cause, which is amazing, and we happen to be part of it because nature decides that.”

Everything at the Shriners Hospital for Children is free, including transportation to and from one’s home community.

Outgrowing their 89,000-square-foot Montreal Hospital, ground broke last year on a 207,000-square-foot replacement building.

The Saskatchewan-wide Wa Wa Shriners have raised $457,594 for the new hospital in little more than two years -- a sum significantly greater than their 10-year goal of $160,000, Wayne Miner said.

“We say we’re going to do these things and then we do what we say we’re going to do,” the organization’s high priest and prophet explained. “We don’t promise something we think we can’t deliver on.”

Locally, the Prince Albert Shrine Club has contributed to this total, member Lou Lintick said, noting that last year’s Wa Wa Shrine Circus managed to raise more than $12,000.

I’ve seen people go to them in wheelchairs and come back walking. Lou Lintick

In total, about $115.8 million of the building project’s $130-million goal has been raised.

But, why would the Prince Albert Shrine Club fundraise for a hospital in Montreal?

It’s Canada’s only Shriner’s Hospital for Children, although there are another 21 additional such hospitals across North America.

Each hospital narrows in on specific needs that their teams of medical professionals excel. These specialized hospitals are, for certain patients, better than more generalized facilities. As Baillairge learned, the hospital in Montreal saved her daughter’s foot.

“I’ve seen people go to them in wheelchairs and come back walking,” Lintick said.

Local youngsters currently underutilize Shriners Hospitals for Children, Lintick said, noting that they currently have only one Prince Albert youth at a Shriners Hospital for Children (in Philadelphia).

Weyburn currently has five and Moose Jaw has four, he relayed.

This, he explained, is why Wednesday’s Exceptional Care Odyssey Prince Albert stop was important, he said, noting that for certain individuals with specific medical problems, there is merit in attending hospitals elsewhere in North America.

And the Shriners will pay all related travel expenses.

Promoting the Shriners organization itself is another important component of the tour, Baillairge said.

“It’s an aging community, and the campaign is, yes, about building awareness for the new hospital, but it’s also about rejuvenating the Shriners,” she said.

“Our generation was brought up to be individualist and to think for yourself and to become what your dream is, but (that) doesn’t work for the long-term,” she said. “You have to be part of your community.” 

Organizations: Shriners, Shriners Hospitals for Children, Prince Albert Cross-Canada Montreal Hospital Shriners organization

Geographic location: Montreal, North America, Saskatchewan Canada Philadelphia Moose Jaw

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