Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Give Kids the World (or just a few hours of your time)

When I was a kid, we lived smack dab in the middle of the Disneyworld tourist area of Kissimmee. I remember seeing a sign next to our Walmart all the time about a place named Give Kids The World. At the time, I did not know anything about it other than it was a place for sick kids. Fast forward to now.. My friend and fellow Sisters by Heart member, Jenny, traveled with her family to the Give Kids the World Village a few weeks ago for her daughter's Make a Wish trip. As I was reading one of Jenny's blog posts about their recent trip to the village, I decided to look into the village and snoop around. It's the same place we used to pass by when I was a kid! Small world. Seeing all of the pictures of her sweet little girl having the time of her life was so inspiring! I couldn't believe this place has been in my backyard this whole time and I didn't know!

I eagerly signed up to volunteer online. Once my background check cleared, I completed my orientation and signed up for my first shift. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I woke before dawn this AM and drove over (just under 40 minute commute) to start my first shift.

It was incredible. And amazing. And heart warming.

This morning I was signed up to help with the breakfast service at the Gingerbread House. We served over 400 people, most of whom were on vacation for their Make a Wish trip. Everyone was so thrilled to be there, guests and volunteers alike. One of the volunteers serving with me is a grandma to a former GKTW guest. Her family was back to help serve others, like they were served years ago when her granddaughter had cancer. Not even 20 minutes after the doors opened, the entire room started singing for a little boy's birthday. The excitement he had just lit up the whole room. I seriously have never seen a child that excited, it brought tears to my eyes (and Grandma's too) and we both tried our best to conceal our sniffles. Another couple that volunteered with me was on vacation from NY. They had only been in town for a few days and had already volunteered 3 days! Something about this place just draws you back, I didn't want to leave and cannot wait to return next week!

If you are interested in volunteering, the sign-up process is simple and you can volunteer for whatever day/time works best for you. Even once a month can make a difference! There is so much to do, so much help needed.. This is an awesome way to get involved and give back!

For more information on volunteering at Give Kids the World, click here.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

CHD Week

February 7-14 is Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week. Did you know that?

Before Evan, I had never heard of CHDs. I knew about heart murmurs, but that was it. I had never heard the terms "hypoplastic", "atresia", and "stenosis". Considering nearly 1.8 families are affected by CHDs, I was left wondering why myself and nearly all of my friends and family had been so uninformed about heart defects.

CHD research is severely underfunded. You don't see or hear about babies dying from heart defects. There are no commercials of sad, intubated, freshly scarred heart babies with Sarah Mclachlan playing in the background. No major celebrities asking for donations to help give these heart kids a better quality of life. Instead, raising awareness has been left up to a few hospitals, a handful of non-profit organizations, and the heart community.

I've been involved in the heart community for 2.5 years now. Every February, my facebook and inbox is flooded with everything CHD related. I.Love.It. I love seeing my friends support my mission to inform the uninformed. I love seeing my heart moms rally together and raise awareness and support from local and state governments. I love seeing the fire lit in all of us as we strive to make the general public aware of our children, our little miracles.

But this year, this year I am struggling. This year, raising awareness is brining me back to a reality that I try my hardest to avoid. My boy, my sweet, full of life little boy, is critically ill. It seriously makes my stomach turn to say that. My boy is sick. When I look at Evan, I want to see the happy, healthy, destructive little boy that he is. I don't want to see a fragile kid who is scheduled to have his THIRD open heart surgery in just 3 short months. His third surgery to repair his broken heart.. To reconstruct his most vital organ to compensate for the missing pieces.. I just hate it. I hate Congenital Heart Defects.

And you know what else I hate? I hate comparing my sick kid to someone else's sick kid. There is a CHD "fact" circulating that says something along the lines of CHDs killing more infants and children than all childhood cancers combined. And people are proud to post this. I'm sorry if this offends you, but on what planet do you feel it is OK to "rub it in" that heart defects are more deadly than cancer?! Do you realize that while this may be true, it is just as awful?? I have a friend who's son is currently battling a very serious form of cancer, with one option to save him that is not working, and I can assure you no one cares which disease is more deadly, or who has more funding. Cancer may have more awareness, more funding, but they are still dying. They are still left untreated with no options. At least for CHDers, the majority have options.. I wouldn't dare pout that they have "more" than "us". Just think about it.

I hope this year you will grant me grace; please understand that this year, I just can't give it my all. My hope instead is my friends and family will take it upon themselves to think about Evan, think about the little boys and girls like him, and share with everyone you know just how prominent CHDs are. <3