Walking Miracles receives grant to continue supporting childhood cancer patients | Features/Entertainment

HURRICANE, W.Va. — Battling childhood cancer can be traumatizing for children, their families and caregivers — and Brett Wilson would know.

Born in Charleston in 1972, he was diagnosed with childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia at age 2. His earliest memories were filled with five years of radiation and chemotherapy.

The challenges brought on by the disease itself and the medicines required to treat it can take a considerable toll, Wilson says — 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, and many families don’t realize what a complex journey lays before them until they’re forced to navigate it.

Wilson formed the Walking Miracles Family Foundation, a West Virginia-based 501(c)3 nonprofit, in 2012 to support caregivers, families and survivors affected by childhood, adolescent and young adult cancer. Patient Navigators connect childhood cancer patients and their families to helpful resources and referral networks.

Wilson, a counselor and certified patient navigator, along with Kacie Owens, a nurse navigator, serve as patient navigators at Walking Miracles to 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 — support Wilson and his family didn’t have.

This year, Walking Miracles was awarded a subrecipient state 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, according to Wilson, so Walking Miracles implemented the “Country Roads Travel Assistance Program,” which has helped more than 250 families in 33 of West Virginia’s 55 counties. It also supports families living in bordering counties who are traveling to West Virginia hospitals and cancer centers for treatment when referred by a physician. The Walking Miracles travel card helps pay for gas, food and lodging. To date, the program has 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, including 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 and E Care 21 to help health care providers and navigators monitor and document patients’ and survivors’ needs during and after treatment.

To learn more about the Walking Miracles Family Foundation, to apply for assistance, or to donate, visit www.walkingmiracles.org.

Founder Brett Wilson was diagnosed with leukemia at age 2.

He Marshall University, he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in counseling in 1995 and 1998, focusing specifically on cancer patients.

His health brought him back to West Virginia, but the move unknowingly helped lay the groundwork for realizing a childhood dream first floated in 1982- to provide resources to families with cancer.

That dream materialized in 2012 when Wilson founded Walking Miracles Family Foundation, which provides travel reimbursement twice annual to families traveling to cancer treatment in West Virginia and surrounding states.

“Once you leave the hospital system, you’re basically on your own until you have to go back to the hospital,” Wilson explained. “We found that the biggest barrier that families face is travel. In West Virginia, the average is travel for cancer treatment is two hours to Morgantown, Charleston or Huntington, and that’s usually for three years.”

During that time, he added, roughly 38 percent of a typical family’s income is spent on gas and lodging for treatment.

Walking Miracles gives to each participating family $250 twice yearly. To date, the foundation has aided more than 200 families in 33 of West Virginia’s 55 counties and given more than $35,000 in travel assistance.

The “Walking Miracles” name wasn’t chosen by accident, either. It’s what Wilson’s grandmother once called him — a walking miracle.

And since then, one walking miracle has made it a mission to grant as many little miracles as possible to those still walking the journey he’s completed.

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