The third time Judy Halter heard the words, “You have cancer,” she panicked. “I knew there was a possibility that my time here could definitely be shortened,” she said. But even more than her diagnosis of bladder cancer, Judy says she worried about how she was going to get to treatment.
At age 76, Judy no longer drove more than a few miles away from home for fear of getting lost and had no way of getting to all her appointments. “I didn’t know what I was going to do,” said Halter. In desperation, she called American Cancer Society asking for guidance. Judy was immediately connected to a program that could help. Through the program, volunteers donate their spare time and personal vehicle to drive cancer patients in their community to treatment appointments. Judy was matched with two drivers who had both been cancer patients themselves.
Since she began treatment a year and a half ago, Judy says she has never missed an appointment.
Before finding Covenant House, Daniel was living in the streets after escaping an abusive home.
“My dad was addicted to meth and drank a lot,” said Daniel. “He abused my mom [and] sexually abused me for years. And no one knew.”
Daniel’s father’s addiction spiraled out of control after Daniel’s mother left. “I thought she would take us with her, but I guess she was just too scared,” sad Daniel. His father stopped going to work, and they were evicted. His father’s abuse didn’t end when they had to move in with family friends.
“I used to sleep in the truck outside because I was so afraid to be in the same house with him,” said Daniel. It wasn’t long before this innocent child faced a choice none of us should have to make: remain in a violent home or risk the dangers of the streets. Daniel chose the streets.
“When I was 15, I started getting into a lot of fights and ended up dropping out of school,” Daniel said. “One day, I was on the street with one of my friends and a group of boys started taunting us. I ended up trying to ‘handle them,’ and they took out a gun and shot my friend right in the face. To this day I blame myself for his death and that we didn’t just walk away,” he said.
Sexually abused by his father. Abandoned by his mother. His best friend shot to death in front of him. All before he was 18.
Daniel has since found shelter, care, ongoing support, and unconditional love at Covenant House. Covenant House staff are working to help Daniel believe in himself and his future, and that he can change his life for the better.
Six-year-old Nico was diagnosed with diabetes in 2014. The diagnosis meant that his mother, Jodi, had to quickly learn about diabetes, including how to care for Nico on a daily basis, give him insulin shots, and spot the warning signs of a diabetic emergency.
The school feared a lawsuit if any of its school staff gave Nico his shots, so Jodi became his caregiver at school. She traveled from her home office to Nico’s school around noon each day to give him an insulin shot. This continued for several months. Bbecause nobody at the school was trained about diabetes, Nico was also unable to participate in after-school programs and activities.
The entire situation was frustrating for the family and Nico. Jodi contacted American Diabetes Association for help, and learned about Nico’s rights. Under federal law, Nico’s school had to provide him proper diabetic care. School staff were trained in diabetic care, giving Nico and his family the support they need.
Jim and Leslie Donigan have been married for almost 50 years. Currently retired with three adult children, they have both faced a cancer diagnosis and are in remission today.
In October of 2003, Leslie was diagnosed with GIST (Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors), a stomach cancer, and was told it was terminal. But then her doctor tried a medication intended for blood cancer—and it worked. The treatment that saved her life resulted directly from blood cancer research funded by Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
Then, in May 2016, Jim faced a mantle cell lymphoma diagnosis. Once again, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society funds dedicated to research were critical in advancing this therapy. Between two cancer diagnoses, the family faced serious financial hardships. Jim relied on Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s co-pay assistance program to help pay for his treatment.
Today, both Leslie and Jim are doing well. “There is hope. Never give up,” says Jim. They are thankful for the investment in blood cancer research, which saved both their lives.
Doctors discovered Colton suffered from a high grade glioma tumor in September, and shortly after he underwent brain surgery. Colton’s family then turned to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for his continuing treatment, including chemotherapy. “St. Jude spares no expense,” said Colton’s mom, Colleen. “It doesn’t matter the cost, they’re going to do what’s in the best interest of my child. The attitude is not to wait and see if something happens, but rather to make sure nothing happens.”
Oliver was placed in an animal shelter. He was sick, and showed signs of past abuse. He had few adoption prospects, but as a fierce advocate for rescue dogs, Betty, decided to give him a chance. Betty noticed Oliver’s sweet disposition and decided he would be a great addition to her growing therapy dog team. Betty and Oliver began training, quickly passed their evaluation, and soon after became a Pet Partners registered therapy animal team. Oliver now visits nursing homes, assisted living facilities, hospitals, and domestic violence shelters. Oliver shows unconditional love to others even with his painful history.
“His heart is here! Wake up!” Blake will never forget waking up to these words when her father received the call that would save his life and change the course of hers forever. Blake felt helpless when her father was on the waiting list, but after his successful transplant, she found a calling in spreading the word about organ and tissue donation. Blake became a NJ Sharing Network Ambassador at 13, and continues to share her story. She founded the Donate Life club at her high school, leads a 5k Celebration team, and plans to continue her efforts in college. “I am inspired by my Dad’s story, the honorable donors, and the students who have told me they changed their license to reflect ‘organ donor. “
During their 19-week ultrasound appointment, Sherry and RH’s excitement turned to terror when they were told their son’s bladder was abnormally large. To save their baby’s life, Sherry underwent fetal surgery. When Douglas was born, he was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease, and a rare birth defect called prune belly syndrome. Yearning for answers and action, Sherry received resources from National Kidney Foundation, and began personally spreading the word about kidney disease. Now almost three, Douglas has already been through 15 surgeries, but remains a happy, active little boy who loves tractors, Mickey Mouse, and playing with his older sister. Despite the many challenges he faces, his parents know he’s strong enough for the fight. His mother reflects on their health journey: “I want everyone to know about kidney disease, for people to get tested to become living donors. Not just for our son when the time comes, but for others waiting for the gift of life.”
Natalie has a very rare auto-immune disorder that causes blood clots. It took months to receive a diagnosis and in that time, it did substantial damage both physically and cognitively. While she realizes she is fortunate to be alive, Natalie experienced multiple brain infractions that impacted her spatial orientation and balance. Freedom Service Dogs of America helped give Natalie her freedom back, with a service dog named Kohlie. Kohlie has been a life-changing gift, as she assists Natalie with bracing, balancing, and retrieving things that drop so that Natalie can avoid leaning over. Natalie lives alone, but with Kohlie by her side, she has the comfort and confidence to travel, and was even able to visit her daughter in California. “I waited for two and a half years for Kohlie. During that time, I was essentially house bound unless someone accompanied me, but now Kohlie and I go everywhere together. She gave me the freedom to be independent. She gave me my life back.”
A CT scan and a biopsy confirmed that a mass in Griffin’s pelvis was Ewing Sarcoma, a type of bone cancer that occurs most often in and around the bones and typically affects children and young adults. Every time Jill arrived at the hospital for her 8-year-old son Griffin’s chemotherapy treatment for Ewing Sarcoma, she posted signs and drawings on the blank hospital room walls. One sign hung above Griffin’s bed and his IV pole: “GriffinStrong,” it said, with the scribbled signatures of his classmates. “Childhood cancer works overtime to destroy families. It does to children what even strong adults crumble beneath,” says Jill. As Griffin left his last treatment, he had advice for other kids going through sickness just like him. True to the motto he has kept with him through it all, he says, “Stay strong. You can do it.”
Latinos and women are among the populations disproportionately affected by Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Paula Meza falls into both demographics, however, she was unfamiliar with Alzheimer’s until her mother, Hermina, was diagnosed. Hermina’s extensive medical needs in addition to working full time and being a student, quickly overwhelmed Paula.
Paula began to feel desperate and unfit to manage her mother’s care. Then, a co-worker referred Paula to the Alzheimer’s Association. Although hesitant, Paula quickly felt supported by receiving educational materials in Spanish and connecting with a Spanish speaking outreach coordinator who continues to check in with the Meza family.
At SeriousFun camps, children living with serious illnesses get to experience many firsts. For eight-year-old Nevaeh, who attended Transplant Week at North Star Reach in Michigan, it was her first time to ever swim in a lake. On the first day of camp, when she first touched the water, she was timid and scared. Two days later, she was running full force into the lake toward her new friends with an exuberant grin on her face. Your support gives children like Nevaeh the opportunity to take healthy risks in a safe and nurturing environment.
Maxwell was diagnosed before birth with hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), a birth defect where the left-side of the heart is underdeveloped, affecting normal blood flow. It can be fatal if untreated. Maxwell’s prenatal diagnosis gave his parents the chance to meet with cardiologists and surgeons and intervene early. After birth, he remained hospitalized on a feeding tube for over a month.
When he was three months old, Maxwell had a second surgery, and two years later he received heart catheterization. Maxwell is now living with a single ventricle, and has only been in circulatory arrest one time since. Maxwell’s story gives hope to other parents that all kids can have a fighting chance to be healthy and happy.
Rose was kidnapped off a city street by two men. One pushed Rose in the car and punched her in the face. He would later become her pimp. Rose’s life quickly spiraled into a nightmare of exploitation, rape and servitude. Rose wanted to fight back, but he threatened to kill her family. He reminded her that he knew her address – and what her little sister looked like.
Finally, an old friend recognized Rose and helped her run to a relative’s house. Unable to reconnect with her family or friends, Rose became homeless. She spent three nights on buses before entering the city shelter system. Thankfully, she found Covenant House. Rose can still barely stand to be touched, almost three years after escaping. But she is learning how to heal – slowly but surely.
Iraq War veteran and Purple Heart recipient Dale Beatty remembers the day his life changed forever. On November 15, 2004, Dale was injured when an IED explosion flipped his Humvee, causing him to lose both legs. “It’s amazing how clear everything becomes when you think your next breath could be your last,” Dale says.
Thanks to Fisher House Foundation, Dale’s wife and children were able to stay by his side throughout the recovery and rehabilitation process and received the emotional support they all needed to heal. “Without Fisher House, I don’t know what my prognosis would have been, or where I would be now not having my family next to me.”
Today, Dale plays in a band, golfs and works to help other veterans. “I remain forever grateful,” he says.