Introducing “Upopolis,” Canada’s first secure online community keeping kids in hospitals connected to each other


Kids’ Health Links Foundation (KHLF), McMaster Children’s Hospital (MCH) and TELUS launched, the first secure online social network for kids in hospital care this past December.

Powered by TELUS, provides the best features of social networking for young patients who often feel isolated when they’re in the hospital. Upopolis will provide a personal profile, secure mail, instant chat, discussion boards, personal blogs and links to child-friendly games. The site also provides unique features to kids in hospital like a homework site to stay up-to-date with their schoolwork, links to kid-friendly health and wellness information, and connections to other children with the same condition.

The online support network was inspired by the hospital experiences of two teenaged friends, Christina Papaevangelou and Katy McDonald. In February 2002, Christina was admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at MCH with a life-threatening illness. Later, Katy was diagnosed with cancer and had to be hospitalized for a long period of time, feeling disconnected from friends, family and keeping up with schoolwork. Sadly, Katy lost her battle with cancer. However, their friendship and common experiences inspired Christina to explore ways to help kids in care stay connected.

“Christina and I established Kids’ Health Links Foundation to make a difference in the lives of hospitalized children,” says Christina’s father, Basile Papaevangelou, who is the chairman and founder of KHLF. Mr. Papaevangelou appreciated the care Christina received so much that he wanted to make a lasting contribution to health care for kids. “With our partners, McMaster Children’s Hospital and TELUS, we are taking the first step in what we committed to accomplish, the launch of Upopolis, a Canada-wide program that enhances the lives of hospitalized children.” McMaster Children’s Hospital is the first hospital in Canada to launch the service.

Upopolis has already made a difference in the life of young patient Amber Pelzer who was born with Spina Bifida. A patient at MCH since she was born, her most recent 87 day stay saw her keeping in touch with her family and friends with the new Upopolis site. “When Amber was introduced to the Upopolis program, her eyes lit up with joy and excitement,” says her mother, Connie Pelzer. “She enjoyed reading about the different tests you could get while in hospital and what the different jobs people do at the hospital.”

The idea of being able to keep in touch with teachers and complete schoolwork really appealed to Amber who was feeling the stress of falling behind in school. “The Upopolis program made a tremendous difference for me. I felt so out of touch from friends and family, it was nice to know that there was a way to keep in touch,” explains Amber. She adds: “I know how hard it is to be sick and in hospital for a long time and this program is an amazing way to help children stay connected. It will definitely help kids have less stress in hospital and allow families and friends near and far stay in touch.”

“Upopolis is an exceptional program for children in hospital, says Dr. Peter Steer, President, McMaster Children’s Hospital. “Hospital stays can be the most challenging time of a child’s life and so it is important that we make every effort to help alleviate stress for these children and their families and keep them connected to loved ones and friends. Kids’ Health Links Foundation and our partners on the Upopolis initiative are paving the way with innovative technology in caring for the whole child.”

Through a unique partnership with Kids’ Health Links Foundation, TELUS is providing a gift of technology services to develop Upopolis. TELUS helped build the site and, over the course of the partnership, it will continue to provide site expansion, ongoing access to, managed Web hosting, and application support and maintenance services.

“TELUS, Kids’ Health Links Foundation and McMaster Children’s Hospital are giving kids the unique ability to stay connected to the world while they’re in the hospital,” says Joe Natale, president TELUS Business Solutions. “The private sector has a vital role to play in helping Canadian health-care providers continue to modernize and improve the patient experience. Nowhere is this more real than for our kids. We are proud to be part of the Upopolis partnership and championing the power of technology to improve the health-care experience for children.”

Kids’ Health Links was founded by Basile Papaevangelou and his daughter Christina to connect, through technology, children in health- care facilities across Canada with friends and family, their teachers and schoolwork. Kids’ Health Links Foundation created Upopolis – an innovative, private online community for children in care.

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Krista Maling is a Public Relations Specialist at McMaster Children’s Hospital.