The plane landed and tears poured down my cheeks. Shayla squeezed my hand tight and nuzzled her little face into my neck. I flew into PHL with Christi so many times. I became quite comfortable getting around the airport and most importantly, we always flew in WITH HOPE! The vast majority of the time, Christi and I just traveled with carry-ons - but that was before the "no liquids" rule. As we waited for nearly an hour for all our bags to arrive, I could only joke to Shayne, "Tim would have carried our suitcase, whisked us off and delivered us to the Ronald House door, complete with a bag of Tasty Cakes, by now!" (Of course there were the times before I was brave enough to call Tim for help, when I struggled with our luggage and getting Christi on the train and to the hospital by myself, since taxi's made her carsick. When Christi became quite ill; however, I called Tim frequently and realized his sincere desire to help. God's people are good! We are so blessed!!)
We soon met up with Tim's sweet family, piled into a van and drove up to Reading for a Reading Phillies baseball game. It was so much fun! My only regret is that we didn't know ahead of time as we would have liked to have seen our "Thomas Cousins" (smile) while we were in their city! (They drove to Christi's funeral and this winter drove to her grave. Amazing!) Regardless, it was tremendous being reunited with our friends again. Shayla picked up right where she left off. We'll never be able to thank that sweet family enough for opening their arms to us, for helping with Shayla's care while she was in Philly, for coming to the hospital many times so Christi had friends to play with etc., etc., etc. (Tim doesn't like to fly and I'll never forget his sincere desire to fly Shayla back to Ohio for us on September 11th when I was hestitant about putting her on that plane alone. Instead, upon my insistence that Shayla would be ok on the plane by herself, Tim picked us up at Ronald, drove us to PHL and waited - for a long time - for me to get our little "unaccompanied minor" up in the air and then he drove me back to CHOP. Nor will we ever forget his driving into the city - on Sundays, to just sit quietly with us, as Christi was dying and we were 500 miles from home.)
On Sunday, I had my teachers' meeting from 7 - 9:30 AM and then we drove up to NYC to spend the afternoon with John, six weeks after Penelope's death. It was great to be with another parent who knows and understands how we are all feeling and without a doubt we could feel his pain too. As his little guy and Shayla enjoyed Central Park, including the Petting Zoo, he showed us the lovely magnolia grove. This is close to the Balto statue Christi & Shayla loved and this grove will be dedicated in Penelope's memory in September. Although our visit seemed so very short, and we wished we would have been able to meet up with other NYC friends, we knew we had a long drive back - and that we've been telling Shayla we will be going back for a few days later this summer so she can get together with Veronica and we can see more friends.
On Monday morning, I had a meeting from 7AM to 9AM and then a break until 11AM so I hopped into the rental car and we raced over to the UPenn Animal Hospital where we were to make a little presentation. We knew it would be hard, but we were surprised that it was much more difficult than we ever imagined. Those sweethearts at UPenn's Animal Hospital will never know how much joy they gave Christi - and our entire family - as a result of opening their arms to our little "vet wanna be". They also took Shayla for an entire day while Christi was dying as it wasn't much fun for Shayla to be in the hospital with us during those dark days of feeling helpless. We all received another tour, as tears kept falling for me, knowing it'd be the last tour I'd ever take and remembering Christi's love for animals and excitement at seeing the: blood donor cats, kidney donor cats, dogs getting their chemo, (No I'm not making this up!) and of course the surgical wards and emergency areas with the sweetest of employees.
We presented the engraved plaque, containing Christi's picture with one of their doggies with a broken arm, and told them that we wanted to set up a long term program of some sort with some of the Christi Thomas Memorial Fund because we thought Christi would really want that to happen. They amazed us by asking us where we wanted her plaque hung and by together deciding that we'd support the existing "Vet Pets" program at the Ronald House, since that is where they first met Christi. They told us that it will be named the "Christi Thomas Vet Pets Program"
and that her fund monies will be used to pay for the film. They take Polaroid photos of the kids with the animals at Ronald and give them to the parents.
I know I'm the "picture queen" however, I know that I'm odd and most parents do not have these special pictures of their kids so I feel very glad about that. Additionally, this program is great for the siblings also staying at Ronald, not just the "sick kids". It will also pay for the special training the vet students' pets have to go through in order to be accepted into the program. As you may remember, Christi said she was going to "UPenn!" for her second college, because she wanted to become a vet there. Of course she said she was going to take her pets to college with her like the vet students did and we believe she may very well have volunteered each week at the Ronald House by taking her animals over for the kids to play with. Regardless of the emotions of the morning, it was incredibly kind of them to be so accepting and loving.
Next we walked to CHOP; the same jaunt we made with Christi in her blue stroller countless times. As I held Shayne's hand nearing the hospital I found myself squeezing it and thinking back to John's words the day before, "If you can walk into CHOP, you are really brave people." I kept thinking, "I'm really not brave. Why are we doing this? Didn't we just leave her little lifeless body and walk out? I can't possible go back there and bring all of that back up? I'm feeling ill just seeing the building." Yet I knew it was important to try to help with our healing and that I really did want to see some special people there, even if we had agreed ahead of time that we would not go up to the floor because that would just be too hard. Our sweet social worker, Dana was there and it was great to see her! She made nearly all of our Ronald House reservations and listened to me cry many times and who literally ran around University City trying to find Christi some cookies when she wanted them and the cafeteria was closed. Such a sweetheart! Later, I learned from her that it was also difficult for her to see us. She and Christi certainly shared a special relationship and we were one of the first families she started working with in her job.
Dr. Maris soon met us in the lobby, despite his busy schedule. We gave him big hugs and it was so nice to see him too. Of course with Dr. Maris you have to have "serious" conversations too. We learned from him that the institutional review board did not want to name Christi's cell line FU-NB-06. They suggested CHLA (Children's Hospital Los Angeles) and a different number. Dr. Maris said that there were many email exchanges between Dr. Reynolds at CHLA and the Board, but thankfully Dr. Maris and Dr. Reynolds stood their ground by informing them that anything else would not be acceptable to Christi's family so FU-NB-06 it was!! He also told us that no one had ever done that before and since we did that with Christi, two other families - in our same exact situation, took the cells from their dead children and hopefully they'll be as successful in establishing new cell lines. Shayne told him that we wanted the cure to the beast discovered, but we wanted to make certain it wasn't with anything currently available (anything we could have tried on Christi, but didn't). He told us he was certain that that won't happen and that we did all we could.
Shayne dropped me off and Tim picked them up to go "down the shore". My thanks to Tim for putting up with Shayne and Shayla for a few days (Smile) while I was in my meetings. It sounded like they all had a really great time together! I was fortunate to meet up with two of the sweetest Ronald Volunteers on my lunch break on two different days. While I wondered how difficult it was for them to come and see me, I was very glad that they did. I knew I couldn't possibly return to the Ronald House, a place we all loved so much, but I really wanted to say hello. I later told Shayne about the great lunch dates I had, "If they lived near us, I bet they'd be some of my closest friends." I'm still stunned by the amazing people Christi introduced us too! Fun in Wildwood, New Jersey
The amazing Grants held another Alex & Christi lemonade stand this year.