Chilliwack teen whisked away with wish to Grey’s set

Family makes dream trip to Los Angeles thanks to Children's Wish Foundation team

Chilliwack’s Rina Smith

Chilliwack’s Rina Smith

Rina Smith has always considered herself a big fan of Grey’s Anatomy.

Now she gets to call herself a director of the popular hospital drama, too.

The 17-year-old was invited to the set in Los Angeles for a personal tour and a chance to meet some of the show’s stars. It was her special wish, granted to her through the Children’s Wish Foundation. Being there was amazing, Rina said, better than she had ever imagined it would be. And while she was there, director Rob Corn let her try out some behind the camera work.

“I directed one scene,” she says, smiling at home with her family. “I got to say action, scene, wrap up.”

The episode was titled Unbreak My Heart — the 11th episode of the 12th season — and it aired in February. For fellow Grey’s fans, it was the episode that chronicled April and Jackson’s relationship, largely through flashbacks. And yes, that means she met Jesse Williams, the actor who plays Dr. Jackson Avery.

While she has no credit for her work on set, she was given a few keepsakes from the set. Her favourite is a scrub top with the autographs of the actors on set that day — Williams’ signature is on there, along with James Pickens Jr., Sara Ramirez, Sarah Drew (April), and Kelly McCreary.

All-in-all, it was a once-in-a-lifetime thrill for Rina, who loves everything about modern medicine. She’s decided on a fast-paced, lifesaving career as a paramedic, and plans on attending the Justice Institute of B.C. But she grew up dreaming of becoming a surgeon, and being on the set of the Seattle-based, fictional hospital Mercy West was a wish come true.

But it’s not her first hospital experience. Far from it.

Rina was born with just one kidney instead of two, and the one she had was perforated. This was discovered during a routine follow up ultrasound when her mom was five months pregnant. At that time, they also learned their daughter would be born without a bladder.

It was shocking news for Marta and Ian Smith, but they quickly learned about kidney functions, transplants, medications, and procedures that were available to help their daughter live a full and happy life. They watched and waited as their tiny girl slowly grew, hoping her one kidney would keep her well until it was time for a transplant.

They were lucky — Ian was a perfect match and a more-than-willing donor. The time for that transplant came when she was four years old, and their two surgeries were textbook successes. She was put on lifelong anti-rejection drugs, and has a team of doctors who watch over her progress, even to this day. She has to take regular trips for checkups and blood work that will hopefully catch any symptoms of organ rejection or failure before symptoms arise.

Nobody can tell the Smiths how long her donated kidney will last. But it’s very likely she will one day need another kidney.

The family jokes that she needs to be nice to her younger sister, Julia, who is likely a good match as well. Finding a family match keeps Rina off the B.C. transplant wait list. Kidney transplants are the most common type of transplant in this province, with 53 performed last year. But the current waiting list has 457 patients.

Rina counts herself lucky, and her family doesn’t focus too much on what could happen in the future. But several years ago, Rina’s wish to visit the Grey’s Anatomy set was put on the bucket list for Children’s Wish Foundation. And in November, she became one of 110 B.C. and Yukon youth to have her wish fulfilled last year. Across Canada, about 1,300 wishes were granted last year — an average of three wishes a day. Including Rina, three of those wishes were granted here in Chilliwack.

Some wishes are fulfilled quickly, says Jennifer Petersen, director of the BC and Yukon Chapter of the Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada.

But Rina’s wish is what they term a celebrity wish, and sometimes they can take a bit longer. In Rina’s case, it was three years of waiting.

“With celebrity wishes, you’re kind of at the mercy of the studios and the celebrities,” she said. “This one took particularly long.”

Rina had almost given up, and was ready to contact the foundation and ask to visit the set of Vancouver-based The 100, instead. But as luck would have it, they got the call that her trip was approved, and the entire family was whisked away to Los Angeles for one week. They were given Universal Studio passes, a car to explore the city, and the on-set tour of Prospect Studios in Los Feliz, just a short drive from Hollywood.

“It was hard waiting. I was wanting to change my mind to make it quicker,” Rina said. “But once the day came it was really exciting.”

Petersen said one of the stumbling blocks for families with sick children who want to travel is the inability to afford proper travel medical insurance. But they’ve partnered with Pacific Blue Cross, who have even waived all pre-existing medical conditions to allow families the chance to worry less while away.

“I have to say that without Pacific Blue Cross we couldn’t do what we do,” Petersen said. “A lot of these kids’ families would never be able to afford the travel insurance, would never be able to afford these trips.”

For the Smith family, the trip wasn’t just a chance to delve into Hollywood, it was chance to be treated like stars.

“It was just the best thing ever,” Marta said. “The whole idea was just to make her feel really, really special, the whole thing was just such a great experience. I think the greatest thing was nobody on set really asked what it was that Rina (was sick from.) It was all about making us happy, and they concentrated on us having a good time, soaking in that special time.”

While many families have been given the opportunity to have a wish fulfilled, many children are missing out, said Petersen. But anyone with a connection to a child with an illness is able to nominate them by emailing the Children’s Wish Foundation with the family’s information. It can be a teacher, a friend, a family member, or even a family doctor.

And anyone can donate to help make sure more wishes are granted.

For more information, visit www.childrenswish.ca.