Bright Beginnings

Kyle was born in January, at an hour before the sun had risen. His mother, Brianna, “fell in love at first sight. He was so pure and perfect.” Brianna hoped Kyle would have a bright future.

Dark Shadow

Fast forward to June 2018, when Kyle was two and a half years old. Life was looking bright – until a dog brutally attacked him. Brianna rushed to the nearest hospital.

“Kyle’s body was lifeless in my arms,” said Brianna. “My heart broke as I was crying to the Lord, begging not to take away my heart and joy.”

When they arrived at the hospital, the doctors found Kyle a room and started treating his injuries. Even Brianna needed medical attention. The stress and fear of possibly losing her child prevented her from breathing normally.

Little Fighter

Two weeks passed. Kyle was put on life support and was in a coma. “But baby Kyle was a fighter,” said Brianna. “All the doctors and nurses who took care of him fell in love with him.” Kyle continued to show progress, despite the grim odds. Kyle became known as “the miracle boy” around the hospital. His healing brought a bright light to all who took care of him.

Eventually, doctors told Brianna that Kyle could hear her. Brianna began to sing to him. As she sang, “tears dripped from my eyes.” Kyle was only responsive to Brianna’s voice. For a long span of 54 days, Kyle was in the hospital. He could only breathe with a tracheostomy tube. On top of this, Kyle still needed maxillofacial surgery to correct his broken jaw.

Bright Flight

One of the doctors had told Brianna that World Pediatric Project might be able to help Kyle. Two representatives from the organization came to visit them. They knew of a doctor who could help Kyle. This doctor was based at VCU. The problem was, VCU was thousands of miles away from Belize, Kyle’s home country. “We could have never come up with the money to travel on our own,” said Brianna.

That was when Mercy Medical Angels came in. Through a partnership with American Airlines’ Miles for Our Wellbeing program, Kyle was able to fly from Belize to VCU. The first flight to treatment resulted in a surgery that put plates in Kyle’s face, to set the broken bones in his jaw. For the second operation, the plates were removed. In addition, Kyle no longer needed the tracheostomy tube to help him breathe, so doctors removed it – “which we are so happy about!”

Towards the Sunrise

Almost a year has passed since Kyle’s accident. “He’s on his way to a strong recovery,” said Brianna. She had been “lost and confused” when the injury dimmed chances at a bright future. Brianna had been worried that Kyle would have lived with constant suffering. She was also concerned that Kyle would be bullied at school “for something that had caused him so much pain.”

When asked what she would say to donors, Brianna chokes up. “Without you,” said Brianna, “who knows what the outcome would have been?”

“Kyle was one of many who got the opportunity of a lifetime, thanks to you.”

When illness and injury cast shadows on a child’s life, the situation can look truly hopeless. Mercy Medical Angels and American Airlines change this. With the help of Mercy Medical Angels and American Airlines, children like Kyle can travel towards the bright sunrise of hope.

bright future child
Kyle has a bright future ahead of him!

Rare Disease Diagnosis

Megan lives in Southern California. The area is known for sunny skies and warm weather year-round. It’s also a place of glamour and entertainment, home to Hollywood and the original Disneyland. However, Megan’s life isn’t all sunshine, smiles, and stars. She has a rare disease. Specifically, she has Median Arcuate Ligament Syndrome (MALS).

She suffered “non-stop pain and nausea” for almost two years before receiving the MALS diagnosis. Then Megan ran into yet another problem. Megan said, “There are very few doctors where I live who are knowledgeable of this rare disease.” She had to go elsewhere for treatment.

Megan’s Flight

The best treatment option for Megan was a corrective surgery. She would have to fly to Cleveland Clinic. However, the renowned clinic was almost 2,000 miles away. Round trip airfare would drain Megan’s limited resources. She was still suffering from chronic abdominal pain, causing her quality of life to plummet.

That was when Megan found out about Mercy Medical Angels. The charity arranged a round trip flight through Southwest Airlines and the Hogan Foundation. Megan traveled from her home in Southern California to Cleveland Clinic. “Without Mercy Medical Angels, the Hogan Foundation, and Southwest Airlines,” said Megan, “there’s no way this would have been possible.”

The surgery was successful. After that, Megan had to stay for a week in Cleveland. Then she was able to return home.

Unstoppable

Nowadays, Megan is doing much better. She says that the transportation increased her quality of life. Also, the flights helped her to maintain physical and mental wellness.

When asked what she would say to donors, Megan’s answer spills forth in gratitude and joy. “Mercy Medical Angels, the Hogan Foundation, and Southwest Airlines were there for me at one of the toughest times of my life. I can’t thank them enough! Forever grateful!”

Sometimes a rare disease puts life on hold. But thanks to Mercy Medical Angels, the Hogan Foundation, and Southwest Airlines, Megan is unstoppable!

rare disease patient smiling
Megan won’t let a rare disease stop her!

From Smile to Sadness

When you think of a smile, what comes to mind? Maybe you think of a teen who just got their braces off. Or maybe you think of a child, “flying” on a swing set. Perhaps you think of relatives or friends seeing each other after a long time apart.

Mike is different from all of these people. One day, his health wasn’t something to smile about. He was diagnosed with a chronic kidney disease.

“Prior to my kidney transplant, I was on dialysis,” said Mike. The dialysis drained his energy. He became weaker, and often suffered from fatigue.

Hopes Dashed…

Mike had one chance at regaining his quality of life. He would need a kidney transplant. The best hospital to treat him was Iowa Methodist Medical Center.

However, this hospital was far away from his home. Airfare would have been too expensive. “This would not have been possible due to the cost of air travel,” said Mike.

Mike’s hopes were dashed. It seemed he had no more reasons to smile.

…And Restored

Thankfully for Mike, Mercy Medical Angels and American Airlines were able to help. Mercy Medical Angels coordinated trips through American Airlines. This enabled Mike to travel to Iowa for the care he needed.

“Mercy Medical Angels and American Airlines were instrumental in getting me listed for kidney and follow-up evaluations,” said Mike. These steps were necessary to receive his kidney transplant. Since the transplant was performed, his quality of life has dramatically increased.

“I have a better quality of life, with no dialysis,” said Mike. “I’m feeling the way I was prior to being diagnosed with chronic kidney disease.”

Healthy and Happy

In one word, Mike describes Mercy Medical Angels as a “blessing.” When asked what he would say to potential donors, he speaks from the heart. “You are changing people’s lives,” he says. Then he continues. “You’re giving them a new outlook, a better quality of life, and hope of a better future.”

Mike has to fly back and forth for the next year or so. The transplant requires follow-up appointments. Mercy Medical Angels and American Airlines will continue to help him by providing charitable transportation.

Now that Mike is healthier, he’s also happier. When people like Mike need transplants, Mercy Medical Angels and American Airlines help them heal with a smile.

mike outside hospital with a smile
Mike is healing with a smile!

Mercy Medical Angels - Spring 2019 newsletter

Constant Care for a Child

Mackenzie, a child who lives in Hampton Roads, was born with multiple medical conditions. She has to travel to Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters multiple times per week for treatment. However, she also needs more specialized care. The hospital that was best able to help Mackenzie was Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. She has to go there once or twice per year.

Uphill Battle

Mackenzie’s mother, Lori, worked as a nurse. However, she has been out of a job for two years. She had to focus on caring for Mackenzie. Also, Lori’s husband is active-duty military. Frequent moves also make it difficult for Lori to find steady employment. The military provides some financial security – but not much. “We are on a very tight budget and it is a struggle some months,” said Lori.

Long-distance travel was draining the family’s resources. Lori was well aware of it, and often worried about her child. “Many times, we were not sure how we were going to pay for gas, tolls, and hotels for Mackenzie to get the care she needs.”

Despite the financial burden, Lori refused to give up on her child. “Not getting the specialized care for Mackenzie is simply not an option.” But getting to that specialized care was becoming increasingly difficult.

Assistance Overcomes Distance

Mercy Medical Angels’ ground transportation program raced to the rescue. The Hampton Roads Community Foundation donated gas cards to Mercy Medical Angels. In turn, the gas cards went to Mackenzie’s family. These gas cards ensured that Mackenzie could travel to Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters.

But traveling to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia wasn’t as easy. It was too far away for Mackenzie’s family to drive. Again, Mercy Medical Angels was ready to help, this time with volunteer pilots. The volunteer pilots made it possible for Mackenzie to fly to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. When she needed to go to New York one summer, the nonprofit helped yet again.

Never Alone

Lori is extremely grateful for the help Mackenzie is receiving. “You have provided us with very needed assistance for travel,” she said. “We try to stay positive and have faith that things will work out, and you have certainly helped that to be the case.”

Mackenzie has a long road ahead. But she doesn’t have to travel it alone… because Mercy Medical Angels is helping her to go the distance.

child with doctor
Mackenzie is going the distance for treatment!

Spinal Problems

Michael, an 11 year old boy, lives in Virginia Beach with his parents. Like most children his age, he wants to play without problems. However, his health prevents him from doing that. Michael has two spinal conditions.

Craniocervical instability, or CCI for short, is when the connective tissue in the head and neck is unusually weak. This can lead to nerve death, compressing the brain stem, and other complications. Syringomyelia is when cysts form in the spinal cord. This can cause chronic pain, loss of motor control, and scoliosis (when the spine curves sideways).

Surgery can successfully treat these two spinal conditions if they’re caught early enough. Michael wasn’t so lucky. “His local neurosurgeons didn’t see either of the conditions,” said Erin, Michael’s mother. “He can’t do the things a normal 11-year-old can do.”

Major Burdens…

As it turned out, the best doctor for Michael was in New York City, at Weill Cornell Medicine. However, the family is on a limited income. Both of his parents live with disabilities. Driving to New York City would take multiple hours. A round-trip flight would drain the family’s finances.

If the two conditions were left untreated, Michael’s quality of life would only deteriorate as time went on. Michael’s family was losing time – and hope.

…Now Lifted

Mercy Medical Angels was able to find Michael a flight to New York City. A partnership with American Airlines lifted the burden of paying for a round-trip flight. Dr. Greenville at Weill Cornell Medicine was able to help Michael.

A Bright Future

Michael’s two spinal conditions are undergoing treatment and getting better. Erin has hope for the future: “Someday, Michael will be able to do what his peers can do.”

Michael’s quality of life is increasing. Mercy Medical Angels and American Airlines will continue to help him travel to treatment. When children like Michael face challenges, Mercy Medical Angels empowers them to never give up.

Burn Awareness Week

The first full week in February is Burn Awarness Week. Prevention, treatment, and safety are all important. With that in mind, Mercy Medical Angels would like to share some information about burns.

By the Numbers

According to a 2015 report by the American Burn Association, burn injuries affect many individuals. Approximately 486,000 people were treated for burn injuries in 2015; 40,000 of these burn victims were hospitalized. Fire-related burns accounted for 43{f77eda0a441a5392985456a36d9467949e304252615cb77080f0e5eccc27b851}. Scalding was a close second at 34{f77eda0a441a5392985456a36d9467949e304252615cb77080f0e5eccc27b851}. Contact burns came in third at 9{f77eda0a441a5392985456a36d9467949e304252615cb77080f0e5eccc27b851}. Electrical burns were at 4{f77eda0a441a5392985456a36d9467949e304252615cb77080f0e5eccc27b851}. Chemical burns made up 3{f77eda0a441a5392985456a36d9467949e304252615cb77080f0e5eccc27b851}. All other burns amounted to 7{f77eda0a441a5392985456a36d9467949e304252615cb77080f0e5eccc27b851}.

Treatment and Healing

First-degree burns involve the outer layer of the skin. Run cool water on the burn for at least five minutes – if they start shivering, turn off the faucet. Don’t reach for the ice pack, as this can make it worse. Aloe helps to soothe the burn, and try a small pain reliever. Don’t use home remedies, such as butters or ointments, as these can trap the heat. Remove all clothing, jewelry, watches, and other accessories ASAP. Cover the burned area with a sterile gauze bandage or clean cloth, but don’t wrap it too tightly. If there are blisters, keep the area intact. If a burn is bigger than the palm of their hand, expands, or they get a fever, seek medical attention.

Second-degree burns affect the first and second layers of the skin. They’re usually red, painful, develop blisters, and can start swelling. If it’s smaller than three inches, you can treat it like a first-degree burn. If it’s bigger than three inches, go to the nearest medical provider for evaluation and treatment.

Third-degree burns harm all skin layers, and can cause permanent damage. The skin might look charred, blackened, or white; it might have a dry, leathery texture. These aren’t minor burns, no matter how small the area is. Get help immediately.

Healing takes several days. Change the wound dressing daily, and observe it for signs of infection. It might start itching uncomfortably; don’t scratch it! Apply a lotion or take an over-the-counter medication such as Benadryl – and always read the directions on the label. Once it’s healed, minimize sun exposure and always wear sun protection.

Safety Q&A

You probably have some questions about burn safety and prevention. Here are some common questions people have about burns – along with answers.

Beware of Unlikely Hazards

  1. Are all burns caused by heat? No. Frostbite and hypothermia can land you in the ER. If you’re out in cold weather, wear warm layers that cover your hands and ears. Take frequent breaks inside with a cup of hot cocoa; steer clear of alcohol or caffeinated drinks. Also, if you see dry ice, don’t touch it!
  2. The coffee overheated and my shower was a little too hot. Are those hazards? Yes. Burns from hot liquid or steam are called scalds. They can cover a larger area than a fire burn. Make sure hot drinks go in spill-proof containers. The temperature for a water heater should be at or below 120 degrees Fahrenheit. If you notice your skin turning red in the shower, cool it off.
  3. The skies are getting dark. Can storms cause burns too? Yes. Get away from water and anything tall, such as a tree. Find shelter and stay there. Lightning is five times hotter than the surface of the sun. The electrical charge can make a bad injury worse.

Stay Safe While Having Fun

  1. It’s a beautiful day! Is it possible to get burned outside? Yes. Make sure your sun protection is at least SPF 30, and re-apply regularly. If a sunburn feels hot, pure aloe helps cool off. Believe it or not, you can get sunburns in winter too, when the light reflects off the snow.
  2. We’re going to a bonfire! Got any safety tips? Make sure that your fire is enclosed in a pit or a ring. Place it downwind from anything flammable. Don’t use chemicals on the fire. Tell people to stay at least three feet away from the flames. Keep the fire manageable and make sure someone has a bucket of water if things get out of hand. To extinguish effectively and stop any embers: douse the fire with water, stir it into the dirt, repeat. Never, under any circumstances, leave a fire unattended! Also, don’t scorch your s’mores – it’s not worth burning your mouth.
  3. Is it OK to use sparklers or fireworks, say, on Fourth of July and New Year? No. Sparklers are hotter than blowtorches. People often suffer from permanent injuries if they set off fireworks. Not to mention, they’re illegal in many states. Leave pyrotechnics to professionals.

Around the House

  1. I want to use the gas fireplace. Does this pose a burn risk? Yes. The glass can reach temperatures up to 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit. It stays hot for at least an hour after you turn off the gas, and can cause serious burns within seconds. If you have small children, put screen barriers over the glass and use baby gates.
  2. I’m about to cook dinner. Any special instructions? For starters, make sure the kids aren’t playing nearby. Make sure that cords for hot appliances – such as the coffee maker or the sandwich press – aren’t dangling from the counter. Turn handles to the side, away from the burners. To handle hot materials, use oven mitts or potholders, not towels. Wear fitted clothing so it doesn’t flop into the fire. If you’re having a cookout, only use fuel that’s intended for your grill.

Out and About

  1. I’m at the gas station. Is there anything I shouldn’t do? No pumping it into a container that’s touching the car. Never siphon by mouth, because of toxic fumes… not to mention, you could swallow it by accident. In case you somehow manage to ingest gasoline, don’t force yourself to vomit. Finally, no smoking.
  2. What if there are kids around? You know what they say about playing with fire. Lighters, matches, and any flammable materials should be locked up and out of sight. Don’t let kids help with turning on the grill or lighting the birthday candles. Set a good example, and teach them about fire safety in an age-appropriate manner.

In Conclusion…

Burn Awareness Week is only one week in February. But safety and prevention don’t end when the awareness week does. Continue following these tips for the rest of the year, and share the knowledge – because when it comes to burn safety, knowledge is protection!

Troubles with Tibial Hemimelia

Faith lives in the Caribbean. Year-round warmth, white coral beaches, and crystal-blue waters beckon to countless tourists. But even in the bright tropical sun, there’s a dark side to life. The remote location of the islands makes it hard to access specialized medical care. This includes treatments for birth defects, such as tibial hemimelia.

When Faith was a baby, doctors found out she had tibial hemimelia. Tibial hemimelia is when the tibia (shin bone) is either too short or entirely absent. It often affects other bones in the leg, ankle, and foot. In this case, Faith is missing a main bone in her right foot. Faith’s mother, Stacey, was worried: “She cannot walk without major reconstructive surgery.”

“She cannot access care at home,” said Stacey, “so we had to travel to the US.” The good news was that a Shriners Hospital in Los Angeles had an orthopedic surgeon on their team who specializes in tibial hemimelia.

“We were able to get an appointment for Faith,” said Stacey, “and so began our journey.”

Clearing the Hurdles

However, two hurdles came up. The hospital was almost 4,000 miles away from Faith’s home. Her family wasn’t able to afford the airfare.

Mercy Medical Angels helped Faith clear those hurdles. A partnership with American Airlines made it possible for Faith to fly to Los Angeles. Faith visited an orthopedic surgeon for a medical consultation regarding treatment for tibial hemimelia. “Thanks to Mercy Medical Angels,” said Stacey, “this trip was possible.”

International Hope

Faith will have to continue flying to the US for surgery and checkups. Mercy Medical Angels and American Airlines will be with her all the way.

When asked about how Mercy Medical Angels and American Airlines helped Faith, Stacey answers with joy. “Without this assistance from Mercy Medical Angels and American Airlines, this consultation at Shriners would not be possible for Faith. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart!”

Often, children like Faith cannot access medical care in their home countries. Mercy Medical Angels and American Airlines are ready to help. No matter where they live, children can travel around the world for healing.

“Thank you, from the bottom of my heart!” ~Stacey, Faith’s mother

Problems with “Autism Awareness”

This April, you’re probably going to witness what appears to be a surge of support for autism. Puzzle pieces will pop up like weeds in the garden. Requests to “light it up blue” will glare in your face like an interrogation lamp. Fundraisers may very well flood your local area like a spring rainstorm. It’s all for a seemingly good cause: “autism awareness.”

However, what seems like an outpouring of aid is more like a destructive tsunami. These calls for “autism awareness” are not helpful, but harmful. Autistic people don’t need awareness. Instead, they need acceptance.

Autism Speaks? More Like Autism Silenced.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to find misinformation this April. You probably have questions about autism, so you decide to look up Autism Speaks. Surely they’ll have some decent information – right?

Wrong.

Autism Speaks says they support autistic people. They came up with this whole “autism awareness” thing in the first place. However, they’re doing the opposite. Their very name is an oxymoron: no autistic individuals serve on their governing board.

“But what about John Elder Robinson?” you ask. “He’s autistic, and he was on their board!” Key word was. In a cunning PR move, Autism Speaks pulled him on. However, Robinson soon resigned. He realized that Autism Speaks wasn’t helping his demographic. That puts Autism Speaks back to square one when it came to listening to autistic voices.

Awareness of ABA

On top of the ironic name, Autism Speaks is dedicated to “curing” autism. To do this, they promote treatments such as Applied Behavioral Analysis, or ABA.

ABA is like obedience school for misbehaving dogs – except it’s used on autistic people. It aims to hide the symptoms of autism, such as stimulating behaviors (“stims”), dislike of physical contact, and sensory issues. This is accomplished with negative reinforcement. A common warning phrase is “quiet hands.” If this is not heeded, cue punishment. These punishments include withholding toys, games, books, and in some cases, even food. Also, physical restraint is often used.

Does it hide the symptoms of autism? In most cases, yes. However, long-lasting trauma often comes with it. ABA also is linked to a rise in various forms of abuse. Instead of learning about personal boundaries, people who have gone through ABA are forced to endure the opposite. When their boundaries are violated in a relationship, they worry that protecting themselves and saying no will result in punishment.

Prepare for Scares

On top of the harm caused by ABA, Autism Speaks spends a lot of money on marketing and advertising. Their campaigns portray autism as a scary disease. In these campaigns, autism rips apart families and steals children. Some of their stories go so far to support eugenics – put bluntly, killing autistic people. According to these tragic narratives, it’s better to be dead than to live with autism.

Again, this is a prime example of not heeding autistic voices. Many autistic people do not wish to be cured. Autism is something they’re born with, like a certain eye color. It is not a disease they develop, like cancer. Think of it this way: if you wouldn’t kill a cancer patient, why would you kill an autistic person?

So What Can You Do?

For starters, don’t go to Autism Speaks. More than 90{f77eda0a441a5392985456a36d9467949e304252615cb77080f0e5eccc27b851} of their funds go to administrative expenses, catering, and events. Instead, check out organizations like the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN) – they’re run by autistic people, for autistic people. Rather than making the move to “light it up blue,” use “Red Instead.” Don’t display the puzzle piece – this is the logo for Autism Speaks.

What if you meet an autistic person? The chance of this happening is more likely than you think. Don’t be alarmed if they start exhibiting stimulating behaviors (“stimming”). Be respectful of personal boundaries. If they’re up for socializing, ask them about their special interests or what they like to do. If they’re not up for socializing, don’t force a conversation. Talking down to them or using cure rhetoric is only going to hurt them, so don’t do that. Finally, show acceptance for who they are, autism and all. Acceptance beats awareness every time.

Autism Acceptance

This April, ignore the flood of “autism awareness.” Keep this information in mind. Share it with someone who wants to learn more about autism. To conclude, don’t be puzzled – support autism acceptance!

Blindsided by Rare Conditions

Victoria lives in Gloucester, Virginia. She was very athletic; her favorite sports were soccer and gymnastics. However, a few years ago, her active life took an unexpected tumble.

She was diagnosed with three rare conditions.

Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) affects her blood flow when she stands up from lying down. Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome harms her connective tissues. Myasthenia Gravis attacks her involuntary muscles.

The three rare conditions disrupted Victoria’s active life. She had to stop playing soccer, and could no longer participate in gymnastics. “I went from being active and playing sports to not being able to walk for long distances,” said Victoria.

Hope Lost…

“There’s nobody in Virginia who can treat my rare conditions,” said Victoria. Specialists at Mayo Clinic would give Victoria the best treatment possible. There was only one problem: Mayo Clinic is more than 1,500 miles away from home. Her family couldn’t afford the cost of long-distance transportation.

It seemed all hope was lost.

…And Found

That was when Mercy Medical Angels and Southwest Airlines flew to the rescue. They provided free airline tickets, which enabled Victoria and her family to travel.

“My family cried when they heard the news,” said Victoria.

Victoria can travel to Mayo Clinic and receive the care she needs. Even though she suffers from three rare conditions, the treatment at Mayo Clinic is improving her quality of life.

Finding Her Wings

In one word, Victoria describes her experience as “phenomenal.” She also made a good point, saying that “people don’t know how important charity is.” Her hope is that people realize the importance of giving back, so that she and other patients can continue to access medical care.

“I’m more than grateful,” says Victoria. When rare conditions push young people like Victoria down, Mercy Medical Angels and Southwest Airlines help them find their wings.