My name is Brian and my daughter Ellory has been a regular visitor to the Children’s Healing Center for four years.
My wife tried to remember exactly how we heard about the CHC. She thinks we first heard about it from the Social Worker at DeVos Children’s hospital when Ellory was first diagnosed. At the time, I think I was so overwhelmed, I missed that detail. I thought we first heard about CHC from our neighbor, whose son was battling cancer. Early in Ellory’s diagnosis, she and our neighbor’s daughter (who needed to stay healthy for her brother’s sake) would go to some of the Center’s preschool offerings. Either way, it’s been a blessing.
Ellory started going to the Center when first diagnosed with Juvenile Dermatomyositis—a rare autoimmune disease that, simply put, has her body attack her skin and muscles. Her treatment required high dose steroids (for a little over two years) and still requires weekly low dose chemo injections. During the combination of those things, she was incredibly vulnerable. Today, we still try to be extra careful, as she reacts to all illnesses more severely than she might if not for the injections. That’s the biggest reason why my wife and I love the CHC. Before COVID made it “cool” and “popular” to check temperatures and sanitize everything, CHC was already doing it. And they continue to do it to keep kids like Ellory safe.
That’s not why Ellory loves the CHC. She loves it because it’s fun. Every summer, Ellory is excited to be part of a few of their camps. One year, we signed her up for a sports-themed camp. As I walked up to registration, MSU basketball great Drew Neitzel was shooting hoops with a couple kids. He leaned down to her and asked, “Do you like basketball?” She looked up at him and said, “No.” She then ran in to play on the pirate ship with some friends. As a longtime Spartan fan, I didn’t know whether to apologize or call her back for a photograph. This is just one example of the awesome opportunities she’s had at the Center. She’s gone to LOTS of craft nights, movie nights (which are really parent nights out, but she doesn’t realize we’re selfishly dropping her off!), camps with animals, camps with different community partners, Halloween nights, and much more.
I’ll share another story about one of those opportunities. Ellory and I attended a Frozen-themed daddy-daughter Dance which began with some games and a special visit from Anna and Elsa—which she talked about for months. The evening ended with ice cream and karaoke. Ellory was too nervous to sing alone, so she went up with another girl her age whose dad I had met earlier. His daughter was undergoing cancer treatments. At the time, Ellory hadn’t seen Frozen II, but the other girl clearly had and belted out song after song. Ellory just did her best to learn on the fly. On the drive home, we talked about how much fun she had and how it was great to make a friend, and Ellory said she really liked her, but wondered, “Why did she shave her hair so short?” And this is another reason why the CHC is such a special place. Especially when Ellory was undergoing steroids, she was self-conscious about gaining weight, she stressed about looking different, and she still gets frustrated with some of the precautions she needs to keep her JDM at bay. We constantly remind her that her JDM is one of the many things that make her special. And, at the CHC, Ellory meets kids that have things that make them special too. She has met great friends here, loves the leaders and staff, and her times there have allowed us to have great conversations about what makes her and every kid special. And I’ve had the opportunity to meet parents—whether it’s at kids events, parents nights, or the Dad’s Night at the Whitecaps—where we can share our stories, our challenges, and other experiences.
So we’re grateful for a place that keeps her safe. It’s a place that she loves going to. And it’s a place that helps connect kids and families that are going through similar experiences. We are so blessed to have it nearby.