Teens’ group lets young patients escape for a while
Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013

Teens’ group lets young patients escape for a while

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/12/18/22/05/eFF9G.Em.138.jpeg|421
    The founders of ESCAPE, from left, Kaitlin Cutler, Hailey Johnston and Katelyn King, drop off their donations at Levine Children’s Hospital.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/12/18/22/05/WIkuP.Em.138.jpeg|189
  • Learn more:

    Find information about ESCAPE on the group’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/the.escape.plan.1ch, email the.escape.plan.2013@gmail.com or follow the group on Twitter at @the ESCAPEplan1 or Instagram at @the_escape_plan

    Donations can be sent to P.O. Box 1219, Dallas, NC 28034.

When Dallas resident Hailey Johnston, 17, was diagnosed with Stage II Hodgkin lymphoma in December 2012, her mother was in treatment for the same condition, after having been diagnosed several weeks earlier.

Hailey was admitted to Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte for treatment. Although she received outstanding medical care, including chemotherapy and radiation, she realized that the in-hospital experience at the Children’s Center was geared more for the younger children, while the somewhat older teen patients like herself were “slipping between the cracks.”

After six rounds of chemotherapy, followed by radiation, her cancer was in remission, as was her mom’s. She returned to classes at Lincoln Charter School in Denver but was unable to continue due to the residual effects of her medical treatment.

She kept up with her classwork through a program offered in conjunction with Levine designed to help children who are unable to attend school because of their health. But she decided that she wanted to do something to assist other teen patients at the hospital.

She enlisted the aid of friends Katelyn King, 17, and Kaitlin Cutler, 16, and together they created an organization they named ESCAPE, an acronym for Every Second Counts and Patience Evolves.

Katelyn had been a patient at Levine Children’s Hospital herself when she was in the eighth grade, and she was given a sock monkey that made a significant impression on her.

“I still treasure that sock monkey,” she said, “and I’d like to think that other teen patients would appreciate gestures like that.”

“We wanted the teens at Levine to have an escape from the circumstances of being in the hospital and not able to do normal teenage things like other kids,” adds Kaitlin. “Naming the group ESCAPE was the easy part. Figuring out what it might stand for required several brainstorming sessions.”

Hailey remembered that she had been given a “tiny, child-sized blanket” and so was always cold. “We decided it would be nice to be able to offer them larger blankets, as well as hats, but we didn’t want to stop there.”

ESCAPE was chartered as a school club to enlist the help of even more students, and it currently has about 15 active members. Meetings are held twice a month, with the help of their school sponsor, Taylor Helms, their English teacher.

The group of technologically savvy teens has gone well beyond family and friends in soliciting donations – monetary and otherwise. They have used Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, in addition to creating a PayPal account.

The Facebook appeal alone has generated support from more than 100 people, some as far away as California, Katelyn said. Other donations have included new blankets, video games and consoles, DVDs, VHS tapes, books and stocking stuffers.

Plans include submitting their story to the “True Heroes” website, as a means of qualifying for a $3,000 grant, and creating a YouTube video detailing the club’s activities at Levine, making them eligible for an additional grant of $500, she said.

Teen patients at the Children’s Hospital are not the sole beneficiaries of ESCAPE’s efforts. “I feel like I’ve grown as a person after my work with the club,” said Katelyn.

“I realize the importance of being thankful for what I have because so many of the teens at Levine are having to deal with difficult circumstances in their lives.”

“Some of the patients are too weak to get out of bed in the morning, and I think about that now when I get up every day,” she adds.

Kaitlin said, “I feel like a whole new me. It feels great to know that I’m helping others my age who are facing greater difficulties in their lives than I have had to face. I’ve always wanted to work in the medical field, and as a result of my efforts in ESCAPE, I think I’d like to be an oncology nurse.”

Hailey, with first-hand experience of what the teens at Levine are confronting, says “After going through cancer treatment, I am hoping that ESCAPE will help other teens cope with their grueling and difficult situation.

“It will show them that there is light at the end of the tunnel,” she says, “and that’s what I was always thinking, there is going to be light at the end of this long, dark tunnel.”

“My greatest personal mission is to help teens with cancer find light during this trial of darkness.”

Bruce Dunbridge is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Bruce? Email him at brucedunbridge@yahoo.com

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