by Chantal Raymond, CHS national communications manager
Arnaud knows all about marsupials. He knows that marsupial babies stay hidden in their mother’s pouch for up to six months before venturing into the outside world and that marsupials never drink (astonishing, isn’t it?). Arnaud knows all this because he is the proud adoptive father (and also a grandfather) of Peach, a koala that lives at Australia’s Featherdale Wildlife Park.
How did this 11-year-old Montrealer come to have such a unique family tree? Very simply he had his wish granted by the Children’s Wish Foundation. But first, we should start at the beginning of his remarkable story.
Arnaud is the eldest son of Katia and François, and big brother to Loïc. Arnaud and Loïc both have severe hemophilia A. The hemophilia community first met Arnaud as the five-year-old star of the French version of CHS’ video Hemophilia: What School Personnel Should Know. It was at about the same time that Katia, Arnaud’s mother, submitted his name to the Children’s Wish Foundation. Arnaud was already in love with marsupials and especially with koalas. When he was little, he was in the Koala group in daycare, and it seems he has felt a kinship with them ever since.
Arnaud’s wish was to travel to Australia to adopt a real live koala. He was immediately accepted into the foundation’s program. At that time though, travelling to the other side of the world was just too daunting for Arnaud, so the project was put on the back burner for a few years. Meanwhile, Isabelle Clément, a talented young photographer, approached the Children’s Wish Foundation with an interesting proposal. She wanted to accompany a child and his or her family, step by step, as a wish became a reality, to document the experience through photography. The images would then become the backdrop of a book authored by a talented writer. The Children’s Wish Foundation team immediately thought of Arnaud. And thus began an incredible adventure and a dear friendship!
Now we jump ahead to March 2011. Our band of travellers landed in Australia for a week-long trip during which they never seemed to stop. They discovered the world down-under including surfing, Sydney, the Taronga Zoo, the Sydney Aquarium, the Blue Mountains, the Royal Botanical Garden and its giant bats. Arnaud and his family saw it all, as did the observant and keen eye of the photographer accompanying them.
But nothing could overshadow Arnaud’s meeting with Peach, his koala. I had mentioned earlier that Arnaud found out that he was not just a dad, but also a granddad. It turned out his koala was a female koala, and had had a baby, named Honey. Arnaud was able to grasp his dream in his hands as he sank his fingers deep in Peach’s thick coat. It was a most incredible moment, when all the frustrations and difficulties experienced by a young boy with hemophilia, all the small and not so small sorrows, and all the painful bleeds seemed to melt away in the moment when his dream became a reality. The entire family knew that Arnaud
had earned this moment, he deserved to have this wish granted.
Once they were back at home, the surprises kept coming. Firstly, the dream didn’t wane. Isabelle, the photographer who captured so magnificently everything Arnaud and his family had seen in Australia, set to work to produce and publish a book about their adventure. Now, the publishing world can be complex and often fraught with hurdles but nothing was going to keep Isabelle from her objective. She convinced a publisher (Del Busso) to sign onto the project. Then internationally acclaimed author Arlette Cousture joined the team. Having won many literary prizes and authored books that have had millions of copies published in Quebec, France and the other francophone countries around the world (books such as Les Filles de Caleb, Ces enfants d’ailleurs, etc.) she took on the task of writing from Arnaud’s point of view, in his words, the adventure he had experienced. The result, Arnaud au pays des koalas (Arnaud in the Land of Koalas) is written with sensitivity and humour.
Added to that was a second dream Arnaud hadn’t even imagined. What would that be? Finding himself immersed in a world so completely unknown to him up to that point: the literary community. It was a whirlwind and Arnaud, his parents and brother were right in the middle of it all. Once the book was published he had the hair-raising experience of participating in the Montreal Book Fair, known as the Salon du livre de Montréal. Right before his eyes, Arnaud watched as 120,000 visitors walked by, many of whom stopped at his publisher’s booth to meet Isabelle Clément, Arlette Cousture and Arnaud himself. Signing books, smiling for media photos and meeting other authors; it was a remarkable experience for an 11-year-old boy!
Speaking of dreams, Arnaud hopes to someday become a comic strip artist. He could not believe his luck to meet in person, real live comic strip artist, Samuel Cantin, who was also the illustrator for Arnaud au pays des koalas. If Arnaud had any doubts about drawing stories as a profession, they soon disappeared. The adventure allowed him not only to live an incredible journey but also planted a seed for the future. Quite an accomplishment!
When Arnaud was born and hemophilia became part of his family’s daily routine, his parents didn’t feel like they had been dealt a winning hand from the start. Now, 11 years later, they don’t see things in the same light. Living with hemophilia for Arnaud, his parents and his brother means being part of a larger extended family. A family that helps each other, that lives through the joy and sadness together, helps each other through the hardships and knows how to see the positive side in all situations. A family that pursues their dream and knows they will succeed in achieving their goal. Arnaud’s dream is the dream of everyone within the bleeding disorder community.
Arnaud really lived through an adventure. A trip to the other side of the world to see koalas, a most memorable Montreal Book Fair, an inspiring meeting with a comic strip artist and new friendships with an author and a photographer who are both talented and sensitive. At the beginning of the project, Arnaud was anxious. Fame just wasn’t for him; he preferred anonymity, to go unnoticed. Now, he understands that when you are true to yourself, things go well and you succeed. Being on the front page of the local newspaper, signing dozens and dozens of books, being on the cover of a book sold in bookstores are just a few ways of showing that though there is an illness present, it is not an obstacle to leading a normal life, through absolutely extraordinary events.
Arnaud au pays des koalas
64 pages | $14.95
($1 per copy goes to the
Children’s Wish Foundation)
– March 2013