We ride for kids.
100% of funding raised through Mary Bridge Children’s Courage supports one of the most impactful funds at Mary Bridge Children's Hospital & Health Network: Where the Need is Greatest. It's an unrestricted fund, available at the ready to support our children's greatest medical needs.
Children with injuries, illnesses, or special needs know courage better than most. So do the people who step forward to help them. At Courage, we ride for all of our community’s children who need care and healing.
Click here to see how the funds you raised in 2017 helped our community's children.
It’s early morning in the Mary Bridge Children’s hematology/oncology clinic as Dawsin Ridge, 7, patiently waits for his three-hour chemotherapy treatment to end. As the IV drips, he quietly sings, “Superman’s got nothing on me,” a line from one of his favorite Charlie Puth songs.
Dawsin is winning his battle with a rare, aggressive form of cancer known as T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ETP T-ALL). For the past two years, he and his family have faced the unimaginable.
In May 2016, Dawsin fell and injured his knee. He couldn’t walk, but X-rays were clear. His mom, Shawna Dailey knew something was wrong. She got a call from Dawsin’s pediatrician the next day. She could hear him crying as he told her, “You’ve got to go to Mary Bridge right now. He has cancer.”
Pediatric oncologist Tamara Chang met Dawsin and his family at Mary Bridge, where he immediately started chemotherapy. Everything was going according to plan until he contracted typhlitis: a rare, dangerous disease in his intestines caused by the chemo. He underwent emergency surgery to remove eight inches of his colon and two subsequent surgeries to help his body heal.
On day 29 of his stay, Dawsin and his family were thrilled to learn that he was cancer-free. But their journey was far from over.
Dawsin continued to have complicated reactions to treatment. The Mary Bridge rapid response team rushed to his room on three occasions to stabilize his vital signs. Dailey was there at every turn. She stopped working for 14 months to stay by her son’s side.
“I felt pain I didn’t know existed,” Dailey says. “What gave me courage and strength was taking this experience one day at a time and seeing him slowly get better. I kept telling myself, ‘This is not it.’”
Dawsin remained bedridden and in isolation for most of his stay at Mary Bridge as he healed.
The Mary Bridge Child Life Services team came to his rescue. When Dawsin started losing his hair, Child Life Specialist Katie Schenk came to his room to be by his side and shave the rest of it off. Child Life Services organized beach volleyball games in Dawsin’s room. While Dawsin was unable to eat solid food, the team covered an entire wall in his room with lists of foods he planned to eat when he left the hospital. Whenever possible, they found ways to get him out of his room.
Because Dawsin was bedridden for such a long time and lost so much muscle in his legs, he couldn’t walk and had to use a wheelchair. Physical therapist Cindy Finel got him moving again. She started by simply playing catch with Dawsin while he was in bed. Eventually, he was able to walk with the help of orthotics. Today, he’s finally walking without support.
Mary Bridge head nurse Jodi Gragg also played a special role in Dawsin’s care and healing. She let Dawsin test drive a high-tech patient bed. She even served as a calm sounding board for Dailey.
Even though the circumstances were devastating, Dailey describes their Mary Bridge stay as amazing. “Everyone at Mary Bridge made us feel like Dawsin was their only patient,” Dailey explains.
“The people here make me feel brave,” Dawsin says.
Dawsin will continue to receive chemo every day at home and once per month at Mary Bridge until October 19, 2019, his last day of treatment. With an end date on the books, Dailey marvels at how far Dawsin has come. “It’s amazing how he’s bounced back from this, emotionally,” she says. “Before all of this, when we would go to an amusement park, he was terrified to go on the smallest kiddie rides. Now he’ll ride the biggest, scariest rollercoasters.”
He’s a survivor. Superman’s got nothing on the Awesome Dawsin.
A little over an hour was all the time it took for the Markstrom family to receivethe news — Noah, 5, had a brain tumor.
Prolonged symptoms of nausea and a refusal to eat or drink brought Noah to MultiCare Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital Emergency Department on December 5, 2017. Looking back, his parents Kara and Kyle Markstrom are still amazed at how fast it all happened.
“I never even sat down. They immediately got us in for tests and were able to figure out what was going on very quickly,” Kyle recalls. “It was amazing how fast and organized they were. Within an hour, we were working on a game plan.”
The plan was to wait at Mary Bridge for a surgery slot to remove the tumor. Noah’s surgery was booked and he was prepped to be transported to the operating room at 7am, but then, the unthinkable happened. At 6:30am, his tumor hemorrhaged. Noah was in surgery for more than four hours. Because of cranial nerve damage caused by the tumor and side effects of the hemorrhage, he was left with a long recovery — everything from Noah’s breathing and swallowing to his vision and temperature regulation were affected.
Noah spent a total of 51 days at Mary Bridge, 30 of which were on a ventilator in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.
“Keeping Noah’s spirits up was really hard to do, but everyone went above and beyond to help him,” Kyle explains. “I couldn’t imagine just being in a normal hospital setting and not having those resources. It would’ve been unbearable.”
It was the small things that made the biggest difference. Child Life Services visited Noah regularly to give him activities and distractions during procedures (and wheelchair races down hospital hallways!) and the family’s social worker provided vouchers for meals in the cafeteria.
“It was a reminder to eat,” Kyle explains. “We never left the hospital after Noah was admitted. These vouchers gave Kara and I a quick meal and a little quiet time.”
Noah and his family have since left the hospital, but have not yet returned to their home in Centralia. They temporarily relocated to Tacoma so that Noah can receive continued care, including daily radiation and weekly specialist visits, as well as speech and physical therapy. Noah’s medical journey is far from over, but he remains in good spirits making friends wherever he goes.
“A five-year-old should never have to go through everything he has,” Kara explains, “But, he is a tough little guy and we are so proud.”
“I have always worked hard from the moment I was born,” Peter, 13, explains. “Both my twin and I were preemies — we stayed in the hospital for nine weeks.”
At 2, Peter was diagnosed with diplegia — a type of cerebral palsy (CP) that affects his legs and his left arm. Peter has embraced his condition and uses it as an opportunity to educate people around him about CP and advocate for other kids with special needs. This advocacy began as early as 8 years old, when Peter wrote an open letter to his classmates explaining what it means to have CP.
“You may have seen me here at school and you may have noticed that I walk a little bit different than you,” Peter’s letter begins. “I am going to tell you why. It is because I have Cerebral Palsy. It means that my muscles don’t work like your muscles. I was born this way.”
“I wanted to tell you about myself because sometimes we all stare at people when we don’t understand something or when a person moves or acts different than you. You see I have feelings and concerns just like everyone else, even if I walk different than you and I do things slower than you. I want to be a kid just like every other kid.”
Peter has been a patient at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital & Health Network for 10 years.
Peter’s routine includes a combination of physical and occupational therapy. Aside from his at-home care, Peter also visits the Mary Bridge Good Samaritan Children’s Therapy Unit (CTU) twice a week. The CTU holds more than a decade of memories for the Smith family — including Peter’s first steps, which were taken in the therapy pool with his former physical therapist.
“When Peter was young, his diagnosis was hard for us to swallow,” says Annette, Peter’s mom. “But after visiting CTU and talking to different parents and therapists, we have grown. It has also allowed Peter to grow.”
Peter’s routine requires the use of many different devices, from knee mobilizers and night-time orthotics to custom-tailored shoes and daily-use orthotics. Because he is still growing, he gets customized shoes every six months free of charge, thanks to CTU donors.
While these treatments help Peter in his day-to-day life, attending a public middle school and living in a world not designed for people with special needs can still be tough. Peter is faced with mobility challenges — but he doesn’t let those challenges limit him.
His advice for staying positive in the face of adversity? “Try to accomplish something every day,” he says.
Peter has accomplished a lot at the young age of 13. His most recent milestones include winning the 2017 Mary Bridge Patient Hero Award and learning how to swim. He credits his family and his personal mantra — “Do your best and forget about the rest” — for his success.
“Peter’s condition has made us all, as a family, appreciate the little things,” his mom says. “When we start to complain, we stop ourselves, because Peter goes through so much daily and he remains positive. He is a motivator.”
Lindsey Topping-Schuetz was told that she may never get pregnant without medical help. But just as she was beginning treatment, she was shocked to find out that she was going to be a mom.
Her excitement turned to fear and confusion at her 20-week ultrasound when she learned that something might be wrong. “Our whole life became waiting for a phone call,” she says.
Lindsey and her husband, Ben, were told that their baby boy had Cri du Chat Syndrome — caused by the partial deletion of the 5th chromosome, as well as an extremely rare duplication of the 17th chromosome. Cri Du Chat Syndrome can cause delayed speech and cognitive abilities, weak muscle tone and feeding issues.
Because of the rarity of his diagnosis, there were more questions than answers for Lindsey and Ben. That’s when they were introduced to the Mary Bridge Pediatric Complex Care Support Team, led by David Brunelle, MD, and Jennifer Kett, MD.
Complex Care is a service offered for families with children diagnosed with life-limiting or life-threatening conditions. The goal of the Complex Care team is to educate and empower families to be their own advocates.
The team meets with families and their medical providers to strengthen lines of communication and help make their medical journey as seamless as possible. Their work crosses a wide spectrum of daily tasks: reaching out to specialists, answering tough questions, providing emotional support on difficult days and helping families plan for what might come next.
"The name ‘Complex Care’ speaks to the fact that families we care for are in a complicated place,” Dr. Brunelle explains. “We are here to help them learn and advocate for themselves. I tell families, 'I don't know what your journey will look like, but you will not be alone."
Dr. Brunelle introduced Lindsey and Ben to the group of specialists that would help take care of their son as soon as he was born.
Three days after meeting Dr. Brunelle, Lindsey had to have an emergency C-section at 34 weeks. Owen Schuetz was born on September 29, 2016, at 4 pounds, 5 ounces. He spent his first 103 days of life in the Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital.
“Dr. Brunelle and Dr. Kett made it feel like family was there,” Lindsey says. “Having someone who can teach you and hold your hand is huge. The team was there for us emotionally.”
On the day of Owen’s graduation from the NICU, staff lined the hallways to cheer Owen, Lindsey and Ben as they moved to the next phase of their journey.
The Complex Care team is still a part of their lives. Owen struggles with low muscle tone, which affects his ability to protect his airway, and he requires a feeding tube. The family’s schedule is filled with appointments — from physical therapy at Mary Bridge Good Samaritan Children’s Therapy Unit to regular visits at the Mary Bridge Gastroenterologist Clinic. Sometimes Owen makes unexpected trips to the hospital.
“There have been several times where things have come up unexpectedly and the Complex Care team has been there,” Lindsey says. “You have this group of people and they become your superheroes.”
Haley Branton found courage in many places during her battle with leukemia:
The friends she made, including Hanna Safley, once a leukemia patient at Mary Bridge herself. “Hanna helped me a lot when I was scared,” says Haley, 9.
Mary Bridge Child Life Specialists, specifically Kristen Bishop, who made procedures and hospital visits less scary.
Her mother, Christy, who shaved her hair off in solidarity when it was time to shave Haley’s.
And her father, Anthony, who helped Haley write and illustrate the children’s book she’s selling to raise money for Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital.
Haley was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in Nov. 2014. It was a rough experience for her and her family.
“It was hard living in the hospital,” Anthony recalls. The family estimates they spent a total of 100 days at Mary Bridge during the course of Haley’s diagnosis and treatment.
Once Haley finished treatment in March 2016 and her cancer was in remission, she wanted to give other children facing cancer the courage to get through the many hospital visits, needle pokes and procedures that she experienced.
Her book, “The World of Blu,” is about an alien who struggles because he looks different from the other aliens on his planet. “He was scared because people laughed at him,” Haley explains.
But Blu travels to Earth and meets a girl in a hospital — Haley — who inspires him:
Blu talked about how it’s so hard to make friends and how he so desperately needed courage to try new things. Haley looked at Blu and said, “You are Courage. You traveled through space to meet someone you never met before, and if that’s not courage I don’t know what is. … when I unlocked my courage, cancer never had a fighting chance.”
Haley also told Blu about how excited she was to go back to school and see her friends. Blu said, “But you look different. Now the other kids will laugh at you like they do to me. What will you do?”
Haley replied, “I will just tell them this is what you look like after defeating a notorious killer called Cancer. When they hear that, they will beg me to protect them.”
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We ride for kids battling cancer.
We ride for kids with special needs.
We ride for kids living with chronic disease.
We ride for kids fighting for their lives.
We ride for kids.
And we ride with Courage.
For more than 60 years, Mary Bridge Children's has been a not-for-profit hospital that has counted on support from the community to fulfill its mission of providing care to all children, regardless of a family's ability to pay. Courage riders and donors are guardian angels for countless children and families in our area.
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