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Family of Abbotsford boy who nearly died at B.C. lake asks for help

Azaryah (Ryah) Hope needs to go to Louisiana for expensive treatment not offered in B.C.
Azaryah Hope has been on a slow road to recovery since a June 1 drowning accident at Cultus Lake, and his family is taking him to Louisiana to pursue hyperbaric oxygen treatment that isn’t available at home.

A little boy from Abbotsford who survived a drowning in Cultus Lake is on a slow road to recovery, and needs help to take the next step.

Azaryah (Ryah) Hope will be traveling to New Orleans soon to access hyperbaric oxygen treatment that isn’t covered by health care and available with the necessary level of expertise in B.C.

“There’s an amazing specialist (Dr. Paul Harch) who’s been doing this for 30-plus years and you could say he’s an icon in the field,” said Ryah’s mom Natalie. “He treats a lot of drowning victims, and in particular children like my son. When it comes to kids with these issues, and because it’s so soon after the injury, what we’ve been told is it requires a lot of doctors knowing what to look for in a patient and and how they respond to the treatment.

“There’s all these details and it’s one of those things where you don’t wnat to risk doing it with someone who doesn’t know this specific injury, because all of these variables come into play. You don’t want to experiment with your child, so that’s why we’re doing it with Dr. Harch.”

Ryah and his family need to charter a properly-outfitted airplane to get there, and they’ll have to stay in Louisiana for two months before coming home. The three-year-old will need ongoing support when he gets back, including the use of a home-version hyperbaric chamber. When all is said and done, mom Natalie Hope figures it’ll cost the family around $300,000 to $400,000.

But you could triple that and she wouldn’t care. All that matters is getting her son well.

“He’s been home for a few days now, which is incredible,” she said. “He’s responding to us in terms of his emotion. He can feel, touch, and all that kind of stuff. He’s smiling and laughing and crying, and he’s needing less and less life-support type of monitoring, which is a huge good sign. So every day we’re seeing improvement, but it’s a process. It’s a journey.”

It’s been a roller coaster of emotion for Natalie and husband Cam since their child was pulled from the waters of Cultus Lake on June 1.

“He was gone. He didn’t have a heartbeat when I pulled him out and started CPR,” Natalie said. “It’s one of those things you never think is going to happen and it was like a living nightmare.”

Ryah was on a ventilator, barely responsive for days afterwards. Natalie and Cam were told he’d probably never come off the ventilator. He was on heart and oxygen monitors. He had pneumonia and a collapsed lung.

Now he’s breathing on his own and maintaining a relatively normal sleep schedule for a toddler. The ‘neurological storms’ that he experienced are getting less frequent and less severe, and he’s been able to go off some of the heavier medications he was on.

“The fact that he’s there, inside, when you’ve been told he’s never going to be there, he’s never going to do this or do that — for him to defy all the odds keeps me going. We are faith people (they go to Hope City Church in Abbotsford) and that’s been a huge part of our journey, seeing God help him defy the odds. All these little miracles have been confirmation of our faith and to keep praying.”

Ryah’s motor functions are now the big concern, and that’s where the hyperbaric treatments are supposed to help. The Hopes are going to New Orleans because Dr. Paul Harch is a rock star in the field. He’s done this sort of thing for 30-plus years and helped children in Ryah’s position. Natalie and Cam connected with the parents of two other kids in similar situations who went through hyperbaric oxygen treatment.

“We’ve done a few consultations with him and you can tell he’s very passionate about helping people,” Natalie said. “We feel confident with him treating Azaryah.”

As she understands it, hyperbaric oxygen treatments increase stem cells in the body to the point where dying brain cells can be brought back to life. Harch wrote a book about it called ‘The Oxygen Revolution.’

“It’s pretty incredible if you think about it, and those kids he treated are thriving today,” Natalie said. “They’re walking and talking and pretty close to the way they were before their accidents.”

A GoFundMe that was created June 2 ( is nearing $28,000 and the family is grateful for the help. Natalie is uncomfortable asking for more, but the sooner they get Ryah’s treatments started the better the outcome is likely to be.

“If you have a child, you know you would do anything to get them healthy and happy,” she said. “Even a little amount helps because small amounts in large numbers can totally make this happen. Just peoples’ hearts doing what they can, and if they can’t give financially, their prayers are a huge help to us.

“Peoples’ love and willingness to lend a helping hand carries you through stuff like this. The prayers and encouragement and people dropping off meals at our house, it has been overwhelming.”


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Eric Welsh

About the Author: Eric Welsh

I joined the Chilliwack Progress in 2007, originally hired as a sports reporter.
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