HURRICANE — Battling childhood cancer can be traumatizing for children, their families and caregivers.
The challenges brought on by the disease itself and the medicines required to treat it can take a considerable toll. But there are other challenges that can stand in the way of getting the best treatment available. The logistics involved in getting to treatment facilities and paying for traveling expenses can be daunting.
Many families don’t realize what a complex journey lays before them until they’re forced to navigate it. Thanks to Walking Miracles, they no longer have to travel this difficult journey alone.
The Walking Miracles Family Foundation, a West Virginia-based 501c3 nonprofit organization, was created to support caregivers, families and survivors impacted by childhood, adolescent and young adult cancer. Patient navigators connect childhood cancer patients and their families to helpful resources and referral networks.
How Walking Miracles came to be is a story of desperation, courage and ultimately, triumph. Brett Wilson, the founder of Walking Miracles, twice survived childhood cancer. In 1974, at 2 years old, he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Wilson underwent five years of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. A year and a half later, he relapsed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Years after his treatment, when long-term side effects usually occur, Wilson and his family had virtually no support. He created Walking Miracles in 2012 so other families could have the support he and his family did not have.
Wilson, an M.A. counselor and certified patient navigator, along with Kacie Owens, a nurse navigator, are patient navigators at Hurricane-headquartered Walking Miracles. They guide cancer patients and their families and caregivers from initial diagnosis all the way through the continuum of care. This ensures caregivers and survivors have access to their referral networks of mental health and state programs, which can also provide financial assistance and support, access to school counselors and psychologists and travel services including discounted lodging, restaurant gift cards and more.
Earlier this year, Walking Miracles was awarded a subrecipient state block grant by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Bureau for Public Health through the Office of Maternal, Child and Family Health in conjunction with the Children with Special Health Care Needs Program to provide patient navigation services from the time of diagnosis through the continuum of care.
The cost of travel is the primary barrier to care in West Virginia, so Walking Miracles implemented the Country Roads Travel Assistance Program. More than 250 families in 33 of West Virginia’s 55 counties have been helped by Country Roads, developed by Walking Miracles in 2013. The program also supports families living in bordering counties of West Virginia in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, North Carolina, Maryland and Ohio who are traveling to West Virginia hospitals and cancer centers for treatment and out of state when referred by a physician.
The Walking Miracles travel card helps pay for gas, food and lodging. To date, they have given families over $250,000 in travel assistance over the last eight years.
Walking Miracles believes it is vital for all childhood and adolescent cancer patients in West Virginia to receive a survivorship plan and be connected to a survivorship clinic for proper follow-up. This includes education on relevant treatment areas and on the long-term side effects that can be expected.
In order to accomplish the follow-up needed, Walking Miracles is supported by Anytime Telehealth, a convenient and cost-effective way to connect with health care providers and E Care 21 helps Walking Miracles navigators monitor and document the patients’ and survivors’ needs while during and after treatment.
To learn more about the Walking Miracles Family Foundation, to apply for assistance or to donate to its programs, visit www.walkingmiracles.org.