The following story was written by Tri-County Vanguard editor Tina Comeau. Over the past year and a half we shared many stories with you about Baby Millie. This special little girl passed away on May 2. On behalf of our newsroom, we send heartfelt condolences to Millie's parents, her family and to everyone who loved her, as did we.
YARMOUTH, N.S. – Even before she was born we were falling in love with Baby Millie.
As she underwent her first heart surgery one month before her birth, while still tucked safely inside her mom Caroline’s womb, people held her (and her parents) in their thoughts and prayers.
And they did the same for every surgery (and there were many) that followed.
A courageous heart warrior is how we would come to know Millie Grace Robertson.
On May 2, Millie, the daughter of Yarmouth residents Caroline and Derek Robertson, lost her battle. She was just over 16 months old.Throughout her young life Millie defied many medical odds. As she did, we found ourselves becoming more and more inspired by this little girl – amazed by her resilience at the tender age of just a few weeks, then months, and then when she celebrated her first birthday.
“It’s a miracle,” said her mom Caroline around the time of Millie’s first birthday. “We were sent home to wait for Millie to die and she proved everyone wrong.”
Millie was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome. The rare heart defect affects normal blood flow through the heart. Then she was diagnosed with a second congenital heart disease called pulmonary vein stenosis. The doctors explained the veins from Millie's heart to her lungs would start to restrict until eventually they disappeared and the blood flow would stop.
That second diagnosis came in the first few weeks of her life.
Early on in Millie’s life doctors told her parents to create a bucket list and do as much as they could with their little girl. Millie's Bucket list was a list that included many of the things that other families might take for granted – meeting a dog, having a sleepover, watching movies together.
But Millie’s contribution to the list was the best one of all – she fought to live.
And live life she did, despite the numerous trips back and forth to the Hospital for Sick Children (a.k.a. Sick Kids) in Toronto and the IWK Health Centre in Halifax.
The list of surgeries and medical treatments she endured was lengthy and dedicated doctors and nurses always did all they could to keep this little girl alive. Millie amazed the medical professionals. She proved the doctors wrong so many times her mother said they referred to it as “the Millie factor” when briefing new doctors.
In our Tri-County Vanguard newsroom we wanted to tell Millie’s story. At first our goal was to help this family, who had to spend weeks, sometimes months, living away from home so Millie could receive the medical care she needed. For a family struggling through the emotional burden, we felt they shouldn’t have to worry about the financial burden too and we shared ways that people could provide support.
And then with every medical roadblock that Millie conquered, we found ourselves cheering her on and wanting to share her successes with our readers as well.
Part of what made telling Millie’s story so easy is her parents wanted the world to know about their daughter. Millie’s parents – amazing, loving, and themselves inspiring, people – decided to openly share her many challenges and achievements. Because of their baby’s numerous surgeries in Toronto, many family members didn’t have a chance to meet her, nor spend time with her in the beginning.
“If she never got to meet the people that loved her, I wanted them to feel like they knew her,” her mother Caroline had said. “I wanted her to be loved by everyone.”
And the family also wanted to create awareness and understanding about the heart conditions that Millie suffered from.
And so Caroline Robertson shared Millie’s life on social media.
As the family made memories, they shared these memories. As Millie reached milestones, these were shared too.
As a result, Millie had an army of supporters behind her – loving her, cheering for her, praying for her and sending as much support as they could to this little girl and her family.
Her mother also had many thanks for all of the medical staff who also became part of their extended family. One of the YouTube videos she posted about Millie's journey was to show the doctors and nurses what life was like for Millie outside of the hospital. It was a wonderful life.
Millie's big eyes captivated us. They sparkled as she lived life.
Her smiles were infectious. She couldn’t offer one without receiving many in return.
We loved watching her do little kid things – playing with dogs, sliding down a slide, playing a recorder, dancing to The Wiggles, tickling Elmo’s tummy and blowing kisses to her mom and dad.
And those curls. Some days tame. Other days wild. What wasn’t there to love?
When Millie and her family needed support, people couldn’t step up fast enough to do things to help. Just how much love and support her community had for her and her family was evident during an April 29 benefit organized and run by caring friends and volunteers and attended by so many. You could literally feel the love inside that hall in Yarmouth as Millie and her family – in a hospital in Toronto – faced their hardest battles since the time she was born.
In her final weeks of life Millie underwent several surgeries following a needed procedure to repair more of the damage to her heart. Sadly, there were complications – an infection, blood clots and the times her heart stopped and she had to be put on life support.
Millie spent much of her life inside hospitals, but this isn't where her life ended on May 2. Instead, she spent her final time at Emily’s House, a hospice for sick children, with family and friends.
“She got to be rocked by mom and dad, surrounded by sunlight and family,” her mom explained through tears in a social media posting. Millie loved music and had songs sung to her.
Twinkle, twinkle little star,
Millie you have come so far.
Twinkle, twinkle little star,
I am proud of who you are.
“Everyone felt lighter and happy to have Millie out of the hospital and in a place that felt peaceful,” her mother generously shared in a social media post. “We took her upstairs to be with mom and dad. They had a bed and a bay window for us to sleep in. That’s just like our home.”
Millie took her last breaths lying between her mom and dad while they sang to her and found the strength to tell her it was okay for her to stop fighting.
Millie was a heart warrior to the end.
Touching hearts. Melting hearts.
And yes, loved by everyone.
She will never be forgotten.
A celebration of Millie’s life will take place at Point Pleasant Park in Halifax on Saturday, May 12 from 1 to 3 p.m., with the gathering at the Sailors Memorial. (Much of Millie's family lives in the Bedford area.) In the event of rain, an alternate location has been planned at Bedford United Church. All who loved Millie are invited. The family asks that you wear your happy clothes (bright colors), bring your musical instruments, a picnic lunch, blankets and beach chairs and of course dogs are welcome too. The family would like to issue an open invitation for anyone who would like to share a memory of Millie or play a song for her as part of the celebration. The family is also asking that, in-lieu of flowers, donations be made to Emily’s House in Toronto, where Millie spent her last night of life. (http://www.emilyshouse.ca/donate/).
Millie loved music. She loved playing music on her toy instruments. She loved being sung too. And one of the groups she loved was The Wiggles.
Millie, this one's for you....