Young patients get a lift from Children's Miracle Network

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Retired Detroit Red Wing Jason Woolley plays bubble hockey with Alexander Swann, 9, during the Children's Miracle Network event at Little Caesar's Arena.

Royal Oak — Sitting across the table in a conference room at Beaumont Children’s Hospital, 12-year-old Jonathan Hendricks spoke with self-assurance.

“I have acute lymphocytic leukemia,” he said, without blinking or averting his eyes.

“It’s a cancer in your blood. It’s when certain cells don’t grow up. So, they have to kill off those cells to let new ones grow.

“And those will grow up.”

Sitting nearby, his mom, Samantha Hendricks, smiled.

She recalled that Jonny got that explanation of his disease from a doctor and remembered how he had responded.

“He was like, ‘So, I got all these weeds in my body?’”

Jonny can proceed with more humor in his young life, he and his mom said, in part because of the Children’s Miracle Network.

On Wednesday, the president and CEO of CMN Hospitals, John Lauck, delivered a check for $1.6 million to Beaumont Children’s Hospital, the day after some of the children and care providers gathered at Little Caesars Arena for a party, with hockey games and toys, and the chance to meet and talk with former Red Wings defenseman Jason Woolley.

The network raises finances and awareness for 170 member hospitals, including Beaumont, which provide 32 million treatments annually for children across the United States and Canada.

Since 1983, Children’s Miracle Network has raised more than $5 billion, most of it $1 at a time.

“The relationships we provide are with big organizations like Walmart, Costco, Panda Express, ReMax, Dairy Queen, IHOP, Speedway,” said John Lauck, president of CMN Hospitals.

“And we represent, collectively, the hospitals with large corporate partners who, in turn, raise money. Now, these partners raise money normally through their customer base a dollar at a time.”

John Lauck,  president and CEO of Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, visited with the families.

Last year, Children’s Miracle Network raised $400 million, he said.

In its 36-year history, it has raised $5 billion to augment health care for children.

Dr. Brian Berman, pediatrician-in-chief at the hospital, called the 31-year relationship “utterly vital to our mission.”

The hospitals may use the donations at their discretion, including for equipment, research and other core medical requirements.

But, most often, the money supports the treatment children are receiving.

“Jonny would have his surgery without CMN,” Berman explained. “But he would not have his child life team to help him relax, calm down, work through the challenges.

“His mother wouldn’t have someone from outside the family who provides some perspective, to help you cope with these major challenges.”

Admiring his articulate, poised, young patient, Berman said Hendricks’ prognosis is good.

“And, thank God, he’s in remission and well,” Berman said.

For Samantha Hendricks, who lives in Holly, the help is integral to her son’s care and his mother’s peace of mind.

Sarah Brown and Jonah Pearsall try their hand at slap shots during the Children's Miracle Network event Tuesday, when families gathered in the Heritage Room of Little Caesar's Arena for some activities and food, as well as a visit from President and CEO of Children's Miracle Network Hospitals John Lauck.

Child life specialists assigned to Jonny can make a huge difference, she said.

“Every step of the way, they are there, whether he’s getting his procedure done, he’s getting a shot or he won’t take his medicine,” she said.

“They’re there not just to help him, but they are giving me ways of doing it at home, too, without freaking him out or scaring him more.”

Such help can make a huge difference in their circumstances, she said.

“It would be really hard to do it on my own,” Hendricks said.

“Even with family, there, you need someone outside of your world to bring in the new perspective and just say, hey, it’s OK that you guys are feeling like this. But, this is how we have to tackle it.”

Multiple long hospital stays have been accompanied by visiting therapists who provided art therapy and even taught Jonny to play the ukulele.

When tension runs high, they shoot syringes at each other or play Nerf dodge ball in the hallway.

“There are so many different things that they do,” Jonny Hendricks said. “They help me calm down before surgeries and stuff like that. And there’s so many more things I could talk about.”

Other moms also say the Children’s Miracle Network has helped their children heal.

“We’ve had five or six hospital stays through Beaumont, and one of the best parts is when CMN will come visit you and bring you items to keep the kids busy, and kind of give you a distraction, even when they are getting needles or IVs,” said Lillian Swann of Clinton Township, whose children Alex, 9, and Chloe, 7, both have had childhood conditions that affected their development.

“We think it’s important to raise awareness of what CMN has done,” she said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”