Melissa Baker has spent more than five weeks in a QEII Health Sciences Centre bed this year and she didn't have a single visitor.

This would be a sad story if not for the fact that Melissa has still seen her family every day by using the QEII Wi-Fi for patients.

Patients and families at the QEII can now stay connected 24 hours a day, 365 days a year with free, unrestricted Wi-Fi thanks to the generous support provided by the Gauthier and David families to the QEII Foundation.

“I wouldn’t have been able to get through the five weeks without it,” says Melissa.

Melissa, a mother of two from Summerside, Prince Edward Island chatted with her 10-year-old daughter Emily and her eight-year-old son Ashton every day. She did that through messaging, and more importantly FaceTime and Skype.

Though she was in the hospital on an extended stay, Melissa is a relatively healthy patient. She was staying in the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit.

“I’ve been having epileptic seizures since I was six, but didn’t get diagnosed until I was nine. It’s basically been a trial and error with drugs and medication my whole life,” says Melissa.

During the extended stay in the unit, the patient is connected to monitors hoping to catch a seizure and record the data. The data is used to confirm epilepsy diagnosis and to plan treatments for the patient going forward. The trouble is that seizures can be infrequent and patients can wait in the unit for extended stays — ranging from days to weeks.

“When I call to tell patients that there is a bed available, they always ask, ‘do you have internet access there?’” says Susan Rahey, neurophysiology program coordinator at the QEII.

The QEII’s Epilepsy Monitoring Unit is the only one in the Maritimes and has an 18-month wait list, meaning many patients are traveling a significant distance to stay in the unit.

Currently, the QEII Foundation is working with the QEII's divisions of neurosurgery, neurology and orthopaedic surgery (spine program) to establish Atlantic Canada’s first Academic Neurosciences Program that will help more patients like Melissa. As part of this initiative, the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit beds will be upgraded from two to four. These two additional beds will reduce wait times for patients waiting to find out if they can be relieved of their epileptic seizures.

“It’s a lot for an extended stay,” says Susan. “The access to the internet enhances the stay and is less lonely.”

The connectivity has the greatest application for long-term patients, especially those who are relatively healthy and need to pass long stretches of time, much like Melissa.

Susan says it’s hard for people to take time away from home and work to come in to the health centre for undetermined lengths of time. The Wi-Fi allows patients to keep working and stay in contact with everyone in their lives.

“It may not seem like much… but it means so much to these patients,” says Susan, who thinks this connection will make a wonderful difference going forward.

Melissa’s most recent five-day trip in April was her second time in the unit, having spent five weeks during a previous visit.

Because of the extended stay, the distance between her and her family can be trying for the mother of two.

“The children are a little nervous. Just not knowing how long I’m going to be away is the thing that bothers them,” she says. “But being able to see me every day and talk to me every day made a huge difference.”

Through the QEII Wi-Fi, Melissa is able to get messages from her daughter when she gets home from school, and enjoys a FaceTime chat with both her children after homework and dinner.

On top of her daily chats with her daughter, she was in frequent communication with her mother and sister as well.

She just doesn’t use it to keep in touch though. Melissa frequently used the connection to surf the web, use social media and watch TV series like Breaking Bad, Vampire Diaries and The Walking Dead.

For Melissa and patients like her, the Wi-Fi helps them feel at home.

“It means everything to me — to be able to see my children, to make me feel closer to my children even though I’m all the way over here.”