The Reno Rodeo Foundation, the charitable arm of the local rodeo, has been busy granting wishes for sick kids and their families. Holly Hutchings witnessed a few of the surprises and has this report.
Nurses, a pediatric oncologist and cowboy hat-wearing rodeo folks are in an unassuming conference room at Renown Hospital. The team is setting up clusters of red and black balloons, and unboxing a cake that has a chocolate frosting horse on it.
The trio of honored guests and their families walk in, thinking they’ve been summoned here for a meeting but instead, they've walked into a celebration. Eagan is 11 and Charlie is seven. The littlest of the three is Jayla, who has curly brown hair that’s tossed into a messy ponytail, with a unicorn headband holding back some stragglers.
When she was just three months old, Jayla’s mom Chante Ramirez knew something was wrong when Jayla would not stop crying and sleeping. Ramirez brought Jayla to the ER and was told her new baby had leukemia -- and that the outlook was dire.
“The way I was explained, I didn’t expect her to even be here,” Ramirez remarked.
Dr. Martin Johnston, Pediatric Hematologist/Oncologist, became Jayla’s Oncologist that day and still cares for her over two years later while she is in remission.
“When she was first diagnosed, odds were not in her favor that she would ultimately do well," Dr. Johnston said. "But now she’s almost three years out from her diagnosis. She’s been off chemotherapy since October, I believe. And she’s still in remission, so statistically speaking, she’s in a very good place.”
Even after an immediate medical threat has subsided, many families still have other burdens. The wishes being granted range in monetary amounts and the goal is to meet the needs of each individual family. Ramirez says Jayla needs continued care items not fully covered by her insurance.
“We’ve been trying to get a wheelchair for four or five months now," Ramirez said. "Her physical therapist gave us a little chair, or bike, that we strap her feet on to, so that’s what she has for equipment right now, but we’re still waiting on the equipment that she actually needs.”
“The treatment stretches out over two or three years, and there are times you’re coming back and forth to clinic multiple times per week," Dr. Johnston said. "There are times when children are in the hospital. Most families have multiple children to take care of. You have parents who are working parents, you have children going to school. You have families with already complicated lives and drop a cancer diagnosis in the middle of that; it’s not easy.”
The Rodeo Foundation says their mission is to help ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances across the 14 Northern Nevada counties. Besides 'Rodeo Wish', they also hold an annual 'Denim Drive' and distribute educational scholarships. They get half of their funding from the Reno Rodeo, and the rest comes from private and community donors.
JT Turnipseed, the current president of the Rodeo Foundation says the wishes aren’t meant to be splashy.
“They’ve got the medical side to deal with and that is an ultimate handful," he said. "We’re just trying to help their lives outside the hospital be easier however we can, whether it’s accommodations at home or a vacation they can afford or something to just make their day-to-day life just a bit better."
Ramirez, who has other kids at home, says that’s what they need, and she feels like Jayla is being recognized for enduring the hardship that she faced.