Monday, February 16, 2015


Tomorrow- We head to Pittsburgh for Madi's yearly checkup. We always hope for the routine and uneventful trip. We never really know. A few days of poking and prodding and testing and a wrap up conversation with her amazing Dr. Deeney. Then, off to SRU for accepted students weekend. How did we get here? One step at a time! Keep my gal in your good thoughts this week... Thanks!

Friday, January 09, 2015

Arts All Star and Future ... boundless

Madi is 17. A high school Senior. College bound in Fall of 2015. She starred in her high school's production of Annie last Fall. She is a continuing inspiration to me. She still faces daily physical struggles with silent aplomb. Her letters of recommendation brought tears to my eyes. I could not ask for a greater gift. Right now, I Mama struggle with all the "last times" and "final events"... concerts, recitals, shows, etc. I try to remind myself that next year will bring so many "firsts". Some days this works... some days, not so much.

Friday, November 01, 2013

What I Did For Love

The words of this song get me every time... Ah, What we do for love... and look (and listen) to these results:

Thank you, Pittsburgh Ronald McDonald House

Madi was asked to be the keynote speaker at the Ronald McDonald House of Pittsburgh, PA fundraising gala. Due to prior commitments, she could not attend. The essay she wrote follows along with the link to a slideshow they will share: When I was asked to write a bit about what the Ronald McDonald House has meant to me, I was a bit overwhelmed to realize that about 1/3 of my life has been spent at Ronald McDonald Houses. My first "home away from home" was the original Ronald McDonald House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Most of my second and third year of life were spent at the house in San Antonio, Texas, when I had my original VEPTR devices inserted. At age four, Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh opened its own Vertical Expansion Prosthesis Titanium Rib program, and I was transferred to the hospital there. Between the ages of four and thirteen, the house on Shady Avenue was a safe place for me. It was a place where I knew I was welcome and could rest before and after surgeries. We live nine hours from Pittsburgh, so the financial burden of travel and stay during my thirty nine major surgeries was heavy. Thanks to the Ronald McDonald House, my Mom had less worry and stress. The house also made it possible for my Grandfather to travel with us and be there to help my Mom take care of me. My Grampa is the most important person in my world, so having him with us made my recovery easier. As a child, the little things meant a lot...being able to choose a gift from the treasure box, wander in the kitchen, choose a book or video, all made the house special to me. I also had a special relationship with Joanne, although I suspect most kids believe they were "most important" to her! I was sad when the Ronald McDonald house moved adjacent to the new hospital at first, but the past three years I have grown to love it there. It is great to just walk to appointments (I no longer have surgeries), and makes every visit less tiring. I have also learned to love the new faces that have taken Joanne's place in the office. Everyone at the Ronald McDonald House is always friendly and welcoming. At age sixteen, I have gone through a lot and met many children who have gone through more than me. The importance of the Ronald McDonald House cannot be over estimated. It really is "the house that love built", and I am thankful to have so many memories of both the house on Shady Avenue and the new house. Sincerely, Madi Draper

The Story of BunBun

It is amazing how fear can shape a moment, a day, a life. I am listening to The Border 106.7 FM as they work their way through day three of the annual radiothon for Children's Miracle Network. I suppose many people do not call in because of Fear. Fear of a layoff. Fear they won't find a job. Fear Christmas is coming and they cannot afford more gifts. Fear that there won't be a big enough turkey on the table for Thanksgiving. I want to tell you about My Day of Fear. I took Madi to her six month check up in February of 1998. I went alone. To see a Doctor who had seen Madi several times in six months. A Doctor who knew she didn't sleep. Or eat. Or have a stable sitting position. A Doctor who I had asked "why does her head only look in one direction"? ... A Doctor who had poo pooed all of my questions and concerns by telling me I was a nervous first time Mom. So, there we were. Madi, me and a little stuffed Bunny. Waiting for her six month exam. This Doctor walked into the exam room, poked at her for a few minutes, and then said, matter of factly, "I hope you aren't getting too attached to this baby, because she will not live long. I don't know what is wrong with her, but it is fatal." He then walked out. A nurse walked in about ten minutes later with a referral to Syracuse for a MONTH later, and a long list of "possible prognosis". The Doctor never returned to the room. I do not remember leaving the room or the doctor office. I do not remember bundling Madi into her purple Pagoda snowsuit. This is what I remember: I lost BunBun in a snowbank. It was a bitter cold, blustery day. Wind blew biting snow into my face. I got to the car, silent tears streaming down my face, put Madi safely in her car seat, went to put Bun Bun next to her to snuggle for the ride home... and BunBun was gone. BunBun is NOT a big stuffed animal. A small, bean filled, Pat The Bunny... brown and adorable. Bun Bun was the ONLY thing Madi had attached to. And, on this horrific day, Bun Bun was gone. I retraced my steps. I searched and searched. I saw a tiny indent in a snowbank, and, for some unknown reason, I knew Bun Bun was THERE. I dug and dug and... found The Bunny. In retrospect, I believe finding that bunny is the turning point. The moment I knew I would find answers. I would find a way to save my daughter. No matter how hard I had to dig... how cold the journey ... I would do it. I do not remember the drive home. I only know this; Madi's love for Bun Bun never dimmed. BunBun entered every operating room with her... Thirty nine times. Bun Bun was always lying next to her in the recovery room pillow when I would half run to her bedside after surgery. Bun Bun is now tucked safely under her pillow every night as she lies her lovely 16 year old head down to rest. Until you have a day when you are told your child will not survive. Until you have faced that ache and loss, you have nothing to fear. Nothing. But if you pledge today, you have so much to gain. You will help another parent face their day of fear with the love and assistance Children's Miracle Network offers. Madi, BunBun and I say "thanks"....

Friday, April 12, 2013


It has been a LONG Fall and Winter for Madi. Bursitis in her hip; sprained knee; WEEKS of pain and crutches. Cough, sinus infection, "maybe" bronchitis... stomach issues, major headaches, dizzy spells. Fatigue, tears, and FRUSTRATION for both her and I. Being chronically injured and/or ill is simply NOT fun. To the people who don't believe her... or who "poo poo" her... or who count her out, leave her out and shut her out... I say SHAME on you. Riding in the KIA yesterday, I happened on an NPR radio interview with Laurie Edwards who was plugging her newly released book, "In the Kingdom of the Sick", and pulled over to listen intently. Everything she said hit home. WE ARE NOT ALONE. I have ordered both of her books, started following her blog and her FB page, and hope that her words give Madi some strength. Madi plugs on... still singing, dancing as she can and feeling "blue". I took her to visit dear friends in Georgia over Spring break and we stopped in Virginia on the way home to see my Aunt and Uncle... and cooking with Great Aunt Tina made her smile. We brought Grampa along and NOTHING makes Madi happier than time with him... her BEST friend. I am thankful for Pittsburgh. For Joanne Londino and Dr. Vincent Deeney and their continued partnership in this medical battle. For their belief that the physical causes a mental attitude-- and NOT the opposite. Fight on... Fighting on...

Monday, September 24, 2012

Madison is 15. I cannot believe that I started this blog when she was 7, and already 7 years into her medical journey. Medical update: A visit to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh to see "her crew" in August was amazing. Dr. Deeney says the VEPTR is holding. What this means, is that, for the forseeable future, she need not consider her final fusion surgery. This surgery is HUGE- long surgery followed by 6-8 weeks in hospital, followed by 7-10 months laid up at home. The vision of My Madi going through that stand still in her life is heart breaking. She was so relieved... She practically collapsed in the hall when we left the Dr. She is such a great actress, I did not comprehend how heavy this had been weighing on her. Bones still break easily; eyes still have cataracts; lung capacity can be scary; left ear has some hearing loss; and she is only 4'5 inches....forever "pocket sized", or, as she states, "legally, I'm a midget". Her dear friend, Kaeleigh, made the trip with us this year. We had a great deal of fun... visiting the music therapy room and hanging with Madi's favorite child life specialist staff in the universe...lunching with favorite nurses from a lifetime of loving care...and a day at the terrific Pittsburgh Zoo. Madi and Kaeleigh entertained Dr. Deeney's office staff with some vocals as they were both very busy in musical theater last summer: performing in Godspell and having leads in Camp Rock. Currently, Madi is a sophomore at Watertown High School where her life revolves around Sophomore select and she will perform the first week of October in their musical FAME as Lambchops. She spent two weeks at Summer Fame at SUNY Oswego this Summer...and continues to be an active company dancer at my studio, Rhonda's FooteWorks. She LOVES assisting with our new Open Hearts, Open Dance Program -- a free dance program offered monthly for exceptional and special needs children. Her dream is to go to Fredonia State and become an art or music therapist and work (tada) at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh... giving back some of the love she received as a patient there for nine years. As her mom, I worry less about some things and more about others. Even if your child is perfectly healthy, Mom worries.... As the Mom to this incredible teen who has conquered so much and continues to fight and achieve miracles daily, the worry is a dull throb in the middle of my glowing heart. It is the tear that forms in my eye for no known reason and the gnawing in my belly when the day is fabulous. Unless you have "been there", it is difficult to describe. Once you have "been there", it is impossible to shake. To all the other Moms out there who do know... I offer heart felt hugs. I don't know what else to offer. Today, she is off to her school looking all the teen girl in her Fall clothes and sassy style. After school, we will get her homecoming dress altered so it is Madi-fied for that big event. She will go to musical rehearsal, I will go to work, and tonight she will wrap up homework and then hit her lap top, music blaring from her room as she sings along. This is our normal right now.... and it feels wonderful!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The trip of a lifetime!

No winter surgery for first time her life? That calls for a celebration, and that we did!
Just back from a 7 day Bahama cruise and she LOVED did I!!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Summertime and the living IS

As Madi was being wheeled into her February surgery, Dr. Deeney announced, "I have great news. This is your last VEPTR surgery".
I guess he thought that would be wonderful. But, Madi being Madi, she started to cry. She thought it meant she wouldn't see her nurses, doctors, and child life specialists from Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh again.
Dr. Deeney assured her she has to come back for visits- but not surgery, and she eventually calmed down.
Leaving the floor after recovering was just like a movie. The nurses lined the halls and hugged her as she left...they have literally seen her grow up before their eyes.
I'd like to tell you I am relieved. Ecstatic. Over joyed. But I can't. I can tell you that the end of the VEPTR journey is simply a turn in this long road. Madi still has joint pain and swelling; she "sprains" anything and everything easily; her skin is still painful; her eyes still concern me... She is only 4'4" and will not be much bigger... and for all the wonderful, amazing, miraculous achievements...I still have "mama worry".
Madi is one of the first 100 kids EVER to have the Vertical Expansion Titanium Ribs implanted in her body. This procedure, undoubtedly, saved her life. Now, via facebook and twitter and social media onslaught, so many "newbies" to the VEPTR program reach out and have questions for us. They are nervous, scared...wondering. I distinctly remember that fear and those feelings, and I WISH I could tell them "it will all be ok"> But, I cannot. I do know that, for us, it was the ONLY way... and that everything we handle from here on out is just another step on her journey.
Middle school was "painful". High school looms next year. Madi is bouyant, joyful, a happy sprite of a pretty faced girl who loves music, voice, acting, art, dance and baby sitting. Like all other almost-14-year-old-girls she just wants to be accepted, appreciated and included. That is not always the story.
I realize, partly from working daily with teens, that her hurt feelings don't just stem from the things that set her apart from her peers-- there are plenty of bullied and ignored pre-teens and teens in this world who appear perfectly "normal"... but I worry about her more for her differences, lest they mask her exceptional ABILITIES.
But now, it is Summer. She just had a grand time in a performance of Bye Bye Birdie, was awarded THE highest honor in her Nana's name at dance recital, got an 89.7 overall grade point avg for 8th grade, and scored high in both vocal and percussion NYSSMA solos.
She is enjoying the pool in our back yard, babysitting, and her true friends... and has made many exciting plans for this SURGERY FREE Summer... so living IS easy.
Now, if I could just stop WORRYING!:)