For years I have listened to Eric and Kathy’s annual 36 hour Radiothon to raise much needed funds for Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. I am ashamed to say that I never once made a donation. I would listen to the stories of the children treated at Children’s Memorial Hospital, now Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, and I would shed some tears, and then I would turn the radio off, thinking to myself, “Wow.”
Then I would go on about my day.
A lot changes when you move to Cancerville. Everything, really. In 2007, during the Radiothon, I walked through the hospital lobby to get to Donna’s inpatient room. There was a little thrill that I could actually see Eric and Kathy, morning drive personalities, as they interviewed a family. Click. Connection made. Oh, this was that Radiothon. The funds raised go directly to this world class institution where we have entrusted Donna’s care. Oh. That ‘click’ was loud. LOUD.
I remember driving home later that afternoon and being introduced to some of the children treated before Donna. Kids with names like Ollie and Mark and Gus. None of them had made it. I turned the radio off, sobbing. Too close, too close, too close. Too damn close.
In twelve years of hosting the Radiothon, Eric and Kathy have raised over twenty million dollars for Children’s Memorial. $20,000,000.00, for freaks sake. That is an astounding number of zeroes. Chicagoans open up their wallets every year, moved by the stories they hear. Tomorrow, for the first time, they will hear Donna’s story.
A few months ago we got a call or an email from the hospital foundation, I honestly can’t remember which, wondering if we might be interested in participating. Without knowing what all was involved, without consulting Mary Tyler Dad, I heard myself say, “Yes, of course.” We feel completely full of love and gratitude toward Lurie Children’s Hospital. Anything we can do, anything, to help that institution, we will. This is a given in our home. It is understood that we owe a tremendous amount, the length and quality of Donna’s too brief life, to the fine folks inside those walls.
So tomorrow morning, bright and early for the 7AM kick-off hour, me and Mary Tyler Dad and Son will drive down to share Donna’s story with all of Chicagoland. We will be the first family to sit in the nest of the new Crown Sky Garden Lobby on the 11th floor of the hospital now dedicated to the fine efforts of Eric and Kathy, and share our Donna’s story. We will see, for the first time, her “story song,” a video made of photos of Donna and snippets of an interview we did in studio a couple of months ago.
There will be tears, Lordy, I know there will be tears. And pride, too, and gratitude. Probably a little laughter.
Most remarkable to me about Eric and Kathy and about the staff at Lurie’s that scouts the families to tell their stories, is that they are not afraid of the dead children. The children who have died, the Marks and Ollies and Guses and Donnas and Bennys and Mayas, are not forgotten, not banished from hope. They, too, are worthy of having their story told. Their death is as much a testament to the wonderful care provided at Lurie Children’s as the glorious survivors who are saved. As the mom of a daughter who is buried, I cannot tell you how grateful I am for that.
So tomorrow, we become THAT family. We will tell Donna’s story, our story, and maybe you will listen. You might be sitting in your car, your kids in the backseat, on your way to school. Or in your kitchen, packing those lunches. Or in bed, bleary eyed and tired, waking for the day.
And maybe, just maybe, you will be better than I was all those years, and you will make that donation, supporting the work of a place I hope you never need.