Friday, March 11, 2011

Under Da Sea Adventure

Just over two weeks ago, during the week of February 21, 2011, the Clark family of Allen, TX, started off on their Sea World trip and boarded a Southwest Airlines flight bound for San Antonio. Little did they know what was in store for them when they arrived... Read about their adventure from the family themselves below.

The whole trip was a blessing from beginning to end. God, our course, knew our family needed a little diversion as this is Sarah's one-year anniversary of being diagnosed with Leukemia. Therefore, it has been a year that our family has been going to countless clinic visits, chemo treatments, ER runs, hospital visits and daily chemo pill regiments. The flight on Southwest Airlines was so exciting for the girls and the drivers who drove us around for the two days made us feel like royalty. How often do you get driven up to the front door of La Madeline's for lunch and then get picked up again by your driver when you are finished eating!?!

The Hyatt Hill Country Resort & Spa Hotel was beyond our expectations. The back sliding glass doors of our room opened to a partially enclosed lawn area where the kids could run and play and explore while we sat in our room or on the back porch!

The lazy river and pools were just outside our door. And Sarah found a hammock, one of her favorite things, near the pool, so she spent some time swinging and relaxing.

The Sea World tour was so special because it wasn't open to the public yet so we had the whole park to ourselves and received VIP access. Senior Trainer Mike Pool arranged a spectacular tour, and we got to see all the animals behind the scenes. Sarah held beautiful birds on her arm and cuddled a baby penguin. We sat on a blanket in the middle of majestic pink flamingos as they inspected us:) Sarah learned some sea lion training signals and was able to get Elroy the sea lion to stick out his tongue, roar, sing, dance and many other things. We were able to talk to Maca birds who talked right back!

We were even blessed enough to see special things that only trainers sometimes get to see like the baby killer whale nursing from her mother as they swam along. The trainers were in the middle of training the baby killer whale to jump out of the water and hit a ball, and we were privledged enough to see her actually catch on and do it!

We will never forgot such an amazing experience we received from Heroes for Children.

And then when we returned to the hotel, we received a call from the local ABC affiliate station KSAT12 saying we would be on the 5 o'clock news! It was so fun to watch our family on TV having such a good time. Click the link below to view footage:

Sarah said, "My favorite part was getting to pet all the animals and feed them. I've never had a chance to do that before!"

Hannah said with a remembering smile on her face, "The black and white whales (killer whales) were so beautiful when they jumped up high and splashed! And the baby one was so cute!"

Rebekah is only two so she doesn't have much to say that is actually quotable, but she does love carrying her big stuffed killer whale around.

The girls are still talking about it and sharing it all with everyone we meet. Thank you Heroes for Children, HFC Friends, Sea World San Antonio, Hyatt Hill Country Hotel Resort & Spa, our driver Carlos Morales and to everyone who had a part in making this a truly remarkable experience for our family and life-long memories.


Anne, Jay, Sarah, Hannah and Rebekah Clark

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Olivia's Beautiful Spirit will "Liv-On"

In November 2004, Heroes for Children was formed. Our very first application came in to support Olivia, a patient at Medical City Children's Hospital. Olivia had been battling Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia for almost three years at that point. After relapsing, her brother Tyler was her bone marrow match for a transplant in October 2004. The picture above was taken in early 2005.

From that early time of Heroes for Children, Olivia and her family were incredibly special to me and Larissa as Co-Founders, as well as to Heroes for Children as a whole. Friends of their family put on a Night of Broadway concert in the spring of 2005 to raise funds for Heroes for Children as well their family. This was a perfect event for them. Never have a met a more talented family! All of them are talented--dancing, acting, singing. The family is the epitome of the triple threat!

I absolutely fell in love with Olivia's sweet face and humor. I adored and admired her parents Joseph and Kandis. They've raised five beautiful and awesome kids and have kept them grounded as a family in a way that many couldn't. As a volunteer with a kids cancer camp, I got the special treat of spending a week with Olivia several summers in a row. Waiting for the Medical City kids to get off the bus was always great for me because I knew she would jump off and immediately give me a huge hug. She laughed and hung out with me in Arts and Crafts, and usually spent time with me at the dance filling me in on all things going on with her family.

Almost five years after Olivia's transplant, she relapsed in August 2009. Since then, I've witnessed strength and courage like no other--both from Olivia, her parents, and her wonderful family. Her cancer treatment took them eventually to MD Anderson in January 2010 after being told that no further treatment was an option. Olivia fought. She fought this battle, but she never fought alone. Kandis and Joseph made it work with traveling to and from Houston as well as juggling their other two young daughters still living at home. She fought alongside her older sister Kaitlin who stayed with her in Houston. She fought along with her family and friends who supported her both near and far. I'm proud to say Heroes for Children helped her fight a little too. She and her family were part of our Holiday Heroes program in 2009, even getting them tickets to see 101 Dalmatians the musical at Dallas Summer Musicals. We sent a "Harry Potter Party in a box" to help her celebrate her 12th birthday Hogwarts style, gave her a laptop through our Laptops for Love program, and hung out with her at the Night at the Museum event at the Museum of Nature and Science.

Joseph, Maddie, Kandis, Jenny from HFC (me), Isabel, Larissa from HFC

and Olivia front and center

On February 13th this year, I was so excited when Joseph and Kandis joined us for the annual Valentine's Dinner for HFC families. Olivia and Kaitlin had already headed back to Houston for the next day's chemotherapy. Larissa and I excitedly talked to Kandis about coming to visit Olivia with our girls when she was in town soon. Seeing Kandis and getting to hug her made my night. I love the Valentine's Dinner so much, but that hug I loved even more.

I cannot fully describe to you the shock and sadness when I learned a week and a half later that sweet Olivia had lost her ten year battle with leukemia. This past Sunday, I sat in a funeral home and watched her amazing family say goodbye to their beautiful inspiration. The funeral was like none other I've ever attended. Glee was Olivia's favorite and, of course, "Don't Stop Believein'" was her theme song. Olivia was FUNNY and her family made sure to share that. She loved music, dance, and cooking "with aspirations of one day becoming a famous pastry chef." Slideshows of Olivia's life were played to Glee songs and showed her goofy, happy, loving, and strong. I especially love the ones of silly string fights in the hospital and sneaking in her little Yorkie into the hospital!

I was blown away and truly humbled by Kandis, Joseph, Kaitlin, Tyler, Maddie and Isabel. There wasn't a stranger presiding over this service. Along with Joseph's two sisters, the celebration of Olivia's life was run entirely by her family. I watched my dear friend Kandis speak lovingly about her daughter and her children. I listened as she spoke of her love for Joseph and the blessings in her life. I closed my eyes with tears streaming down them as Tyler sang to his sister a song from Into the Woods. I bawled when Joseph sang to his beautiful daughter, his very own love song to her. I watched in awe as Maddie and Kaitlin told stories and spoke about their sister with more love than most siblings share. It was truly one of the most moving moments of my life. I told both Joseph and Kandis afterwards that if my children love and respect me HALF as much as theirs do when they are older, I will consider it a success.

Till I die, I will never know why children get cancer. I will never know why they have to hurt this way. One thing I know for absolute certain, Olivia was loved. Olivia was adored. Olivia was strong, sweet, funny, creative, talented, brave, and beautiful. Olivia's family is blessed.

To my sweet friends Kandis and Joseph--please know how much you mean to me and how knowing your family has forever changed my life. Thank you for allowing us to be a part of Olivia's life. What a true privilege.

To Olivia--thank you for being my friend. I will forever remember you. Please give our angels a squeeze from us. Larissa and I thank you for being in our lives and the entire Heroes for Children family loves you.