My wife Evelyn and I were traveling in Europe in the Spring of 2018. It was our first trip to France together, and we had enjoyed the incredible museums, scenery, architecture, and history of Paris, the Loire Valley, and Normandy Beach. As we were about to return home, I received a call from my daughter Janessa. Pregnant with twins, she had delivered early at 26 weeks and her baby boys Samson and Oliver were in a Children’s Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. They weighed only 1 pound, 12 ounces and they were clinging to life.
This was Janessa and Drew’s first pregnancy and they were full of anticipation for the arrival of the twins. The excitement was suddenly replaced with fear and anxiousness with the babies’ premature delivery.
I had had other experiences with the amazing work done by Children’s Hospitals but nothing compared with the 3-month journey that my daughter and son-in-law and the whole family were about to experience.
There are few charitable causes that tug at our heartstrings like the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and the Credit Unions for Kids program. CMN Hospitals raise funds and awareness for 170 member hospitals that provide 32 million treatments each year to kids across the U.S. and Canada. Donations stay local to fund critical treatments and healthcare services, equipment and charitable care. Since 1983, CMN has raised more than $7 billion.
Looking at this another way, 62 children enter a CMN hospital every minute and that counts for 1 in 10 kids in North America each year. There are 32 million patient visits for 10 million kids every year. Every day that means 16,000 kids in the ER, 935 with diabetes, 2,200 for cancer, 925 newborns in ICU and another 2,300 for surgeries.
Of course, every child and every family have a story like my grandsons, Samson and Oliver.
When we arrived at the NICU in Salt Lake City, Janessa and Drew were in good spirits, positive, already immersed in the CMN culture that encourages parents and grandparents to share in the long nurturing journey that helps these babies cling to life and battle unexpected challenges.
Janessa plays the guitar, as do I. She was told that it helps to read to the babies and to sing to them as they develop. My heart was touched when she asked if I would consider playing the guitar and singing some songs to the babies.
I remember thinking, “How could I turn down that request?” And such was the bittersweet experience of our visit. On one hand, we were deeply saddened by seeing how dire things looked for the boys. But on the other hand, we were inspired by the care being given and the way that Janessa and Drew were giving their all with great hope and faith.
As grandparents who lived 1,500 miles away in Michigan, we did our best to show up and participate in this challenging and long journey. Our brief and seldom visits were appreciated, but were so inconsequential compared to the daily highs and lows of emotions felt by Mom and Dad. It was they who hovered over incubators, and received almost hourly updates from doctors and nurses who provided incredible and impressive care with amazing expertise, but sometimes with the most troubling news like possible surgeries and other risky treatments.
As the three months in NICU came to an end, Oliver was a near-perfect baby as he left the hospital and headed home. But Samson had physical issues that could last a lifetime. Most of them now appear surmountable though they will have some lifelong impact. He had a permanent shunt placed in his brain to drain fluid. He would have a feeding tube in his stomach that would be required for at least the first 24 months of his life and he was diagnosed with mild cerebral palsy that could be largely treated with physical therapy, though it will have an impact on his neuromuscular development.
As the boys are now smiling, happy and energetic toddlers, both are living miracles. They are only healthy, let alone alive due to the amazing work of two Children’s hospitals in Salt Lake City, part of the CMN Hospitals network. And this amazing care is obviously very expensive. You can’t have 4-6 caregivers per child, tending to babies 7/24 with expensive medical equipment, without a very large bill at the end of the stay.
Samson and Oliver’s 3-month stay resulted in a total bill of over $3m. Their parents had insurance but many parents don’t. Our generous giving can assure quality care and relieve financial stress for millions of families in need. What a tremendous impact we can continue to have through generous giving.
Not surprisingly, the credit union industry is one of the largest contributors to CMN Hospitals. Founded in 1996, Credit Unions for Kids has raised over $200 million with a whopping $13.6 million raised in 2019 alone. Credit unions and their organizations raise funds with wine auctions, golf tournaments, casual days, selling miracle balloon icons, selling candy bars and big event auctions and silent auctions. This year, CU4Kids launched, “Give on the Go”, which is engaging members to give on online and mobile banking platforms.
Chances are, at least 10 percent of the nation’s 300,000 credit union employees and volunteers have a story like mine to tell. These are heartwarming stories about survival battles won and lost by children and parents and families afflicted by the most challenging health issues.
And whether these stories are experienced personally or from a distance, as a credit union community we should take great pride in the opportunity to support such a worthy cause. And while credit unions drive so many other examples of charitable giving all across the country, perhaps we could all consider doubling down on this wonderful Credit Unions for Kids cause that drives so many success stories for the most vulnerable children.
The Michigan Credit Union League, a longtime supporter and fundraiser for CMN, invited Jonny Hendricks and his family to attend its convention in Traverse City to share how CMN has benefited him.
Jonny was first diagnosed with cancer in 2013 and is no stranger to fundraising. He has held multiple fundraisers to give back to different departments within Beaumont, has been interviewed by Hour Magazine and was featured in a commercial for CMN titled “Dear Cancer.”
According to his mother, Samantha Hendricks, Jonny is a very caring, giving and fun-loving child who always has a joke to tell. His family has a saying, which he shared with AC&E attendees: “tough times don’t last … tough kids do!”
Continuing in the tradition of giving, Hendricks talked to convention attendees and brought a signed and framed piece of his artwork for a live auction benefiting CMN.
“Jonny was so inspiring and touched everyone who met him,” said Lisa Fawcett, chief marketing officer for Zeal Credit Union. “When we learned that his art was the first item to be auctioned, we jumped at the opportunity.”
CU Solutions Group (CUSG) agreed to match all donations to CMN up to $500, so Zeal made a bid of $500 to enable a donation of $1,000 to CMN.
“Picking a place to display Jonny’s picture was easy,” said Fawcett. “Throughout our credit union headquarters in Livonia, we have signage and art that emphasizes our core values of passion, empathy and character. Knowing Jonny’s story made it even more personal. What a fantastic kid and role model for all of us.”
Jonny’s Leukemia has been in and out of remission and he truly is one tough kid! His Mom sums it up like this, “We still have a lot of fight within us and we’re ready to tackle this head-on! As scary as all of this is, Jonny is always the light at the end of the tunnel and makes it shine every day! I love that boy more than life itself!!! Please keep sending your prayers, good vibes, and healing thoughts. TOUGH TIMES DON’T LAST… TOUGH KIDS DO!”
COVID-19 has placed an unprecedented stress on the U.S. health system, including CMN hospitals. The associated costs have affected every aspect of treatment and services offered as employees, funds, facilities and other resources are reallocated to meet emergency needs and to conduct research to generate a viable vaccine. And as more families lose insurance coverage due to job loss, expanded philanthropy is more important than ever.
Nick Coleman is the Director of Credit Unions for Kids and he can be reached at cu4kids.org. Nick and Credit Unions for Kids have resources and programs that are waiting for our continued commitment.