Hays residents of all ages rally to help ill toddler
By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
It seemed as normal a routine as any for a parent of an 18-month-old as Frank Medina lifted his daughter, Olivia, into her high chair one day last week.
Then it was Trey's turn, then Chloe's.
One, two, three. Now, this seemed normal for the Hays man, a father of young triplets who were ready to eat lunch.
But it was far from it. "Normal" took a severe curve for the family Aug. 29, when Medina and his wife, Renee, learned Chloe had acute myeloid leukemia.
Now, Frank and Chloe spend 28-day stretches at Children's Hospital Colorado in Aurora, where Chloe undergoes chemotherapy treatments.
Meanwhile, Renee stays home to care for Chloe's siblings -- the pair that shares her same birthday of March 29, 2012, and her older sister, 9-year-old Michaela. On weekends, Mom drives Michaela in the family van for the five-hour drive to Colorado.
Dad and Chloe get to come home for about a week at a time every 28 days, and during their time in Colorado, they keep in touch with the family by FaceTime on their cell phones and Skype on the computer.
The Medinas know this is their new normal for the next several months. Chloe's present treatment schedule will be monitored with bone marrow biopsies, and there is a possibility she will need a bone marrow transplant.
"They can't tell us if this (treatment) is going to work until it's done," Frank said.
While dealing with a critically ill child can be draining on families -- physically, mentally, emotionally and financially -- people back home are letting the Medinas know they are not alone in their fight.
Frank has been a custodian at Hays Middle School for the past year and a half, and before that, he worked a similar job at Hays High School.
Staff and students at those two schools got together last month to help one of their own.
Jessica Dale, student council sponsor at the middle school, gave the Medinas a big surprise -- a pleasant one this time -- informing the family last week the schools had raised more than $8,000 for travel and other incidental expenses.
"Each year, we try to do some type of community service," Dale said. "This is a Hays girl; if it hits home to these kids, it means more."
Jeanie Michaelis, business teacher at Hays High, headed up the fundraiser in her building with her leadership class and was "blown away" by the response.
Each teacher put a cup on the desk in his or her classroom, and "we were going to pick them up once a week or every three days," Michealis said.
Michaelis soon realized the money would need to be collected daily. HHS raised $1,000 in a three-day span and accounted for $4,000 of the total amount.
"I couldn't believe the caring spirit," Michaelis said. "Some people didn't even know who (the Medinas) were, but contributed anyway. They just saw there was a family in need."
Renee's employer, Amphenol/Adronics in Hays, has chipped in as well with internal fundraisers for the family.
A friend of Renee's, Jessamyn Garrison, has sponsored a bake sale and is in charge of selling orange "Courage for Chloe" bracelets and spearheading a Dec. 13 benefit concert at the Golden Q in Hays. Bracelets can be purcahsed by emailing Garrison at firstname.lastname@example.org. T-shirts also can be purchased through Nov. 24 at www.booster.com/courageforchloe.
A fund has been set up at the Sunflower Bank in Hays, where people can contribute to the "Chloe Medina Medical Fund."
The $8,000-plus raised at HMS and HHS, coupled with nearly $750 collected at a benefit night at Freddy's Frozen Custard, brought the total to almost $8,700.
That really will help once Frank's sick leave and vacation run out. When that happens, he plans to work at least two weeks a month and trade off time at the hospital with his wife.
Starting Friday, Michaela won't be able to accompany her mom to the hospital, which because of flu season allows only those 12 years and older to visit for the next few months.
The funds raised will give Renee the chance to fly, rather than drive, to Denver, giving her more time with Chloe.
Chloe's grandparents on both sides of the family are able to help. Renee's parents, Robert and Lois Dreher, live in Hays, and Frank's mom, Maria Medina, lives in Weskan.
Still, there is a lot of juggling with schedules, and "there are a lot of ups and downs," Renee admitted.
Knowing there are so many people helping in any way they can back home lightens their load a little, she said.
"So many people showing support," Renee said, "it means a lot."