How A Simple Act Of Empathy Led To A $1M Gift For Child Life Specialists At Children’s Medical Center

September 03, 2018 - My Sweet Charity

There are certain moments that take root in the memory for decades. For Carolyn Brown, one such moment took place more than 30 years ago. It involved her little grandson, Russell McKeown. No, it wasn’t a birthday party, or watching Russell take his first crawl around the living-room floor. Instead, the matriarch of the Brown family was being helped by a volunteer at Children’s Medical Center Dallas.

At the age of six months, it seems, Russell had been diagnosed with cancer. As he was being prepared for surgery to remove a tumor near his spinal cord, Carolyn was comforted by one particular hospital volunteer who’d had a child with cancer himself. The volunteer, who’d gotten to know Carolyn and her family well, was right there when little Russell was wheeled into the operating room for his surgery.

“I didn’t know if I could handle it, and he tapped me on my shoulder and said, ‘He’s going to be all right,” Carolyn remembers.

That simple act of empathy from someone who knew how she felt helped them all get through the trying time. And, the volunteer turned out to be right. Today Russell is a vibrant, healthy 32-year old who went to college, has a job, loves the outdoors and has loads of friends.

He also has grandparents who weren’t satisfied with just writing a thank-you note to Children’s for its attentive doctors and nurses and extraordinary volunteers.

According to Carolyn, “Because of the experience we had, we realized that when you come into this situation, you’re frightened; you don’t know what lies ahead of you. We wanted to do something to help the families as well as the child, to make it more comfortable for them, to give them more support.”

Jennifer Arthur, Chris And Ellen McKeown, Russell McKeown and Carolyn And David Brown

To show their appreciation and support for families facing similar challenges, Carolyn and her husband David Brown have made a $1M donation to Children’s Cancer Fund to establish the new Carolyn and David Brown Endowment for Child Life honoring Russell. It is the “first endowment dedicated to the work of Child Life specialists who work in the Pauline Allen Gill Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders” at Children’s Health.

The Children’s Cancer Fund is a nonprofit that was founded in 1982 by parents of children being treated for cancer at Children’s Medical Center. The Gill Center has been rated one of the nation’s best pediatric cancer facilities.  Child Life specialists, funded entirely by philanthropy, soften the blow of hospitalization and difficult treatments by offering the likes of music therapy, art therapy, and pet therapy.

Children’s Cancer Fund Executive Director Jennifer Arthur said, “CCF is committed to curing kids’ cancer and providing compassionate care. Child Life is a critical part of care and until we find a cure for cancer, we will do everything we can do to comfort kids and their families as they navigate their diagnosis and treatment.”

Children’s Medical Center Foundation President Brent Christopher added, “This remarkable gift … will make an impact long into the future for the patients at Children’s Health, and we are deeply grateful. Providing this gift through the Children’s Cancer Fund is significant for so many reasons, big and small, but mostly because of CCF’s long support of pediatric cancer research. That support started as a grassroots effort and has grown to make an enormous difference in the outcomes for so many kids — as in Russell’s case — over the last 35 years.”

As for Russell, he admitted that he didn’t remember any of the anxieties facing his grandparents and his parents, Ellen and Chris McKeown. But he did recall meeting Dallas Cowboys icons Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach while participating as a child model in the CCF’s annual Children’s Cancer Fund Fashion Show and Gala fundraiser. “You’re special that day,” he says, “particularly when you’re on stage and people are clapping.”

This past Friday, April 27, Russell was on stage for the annual fundraiser at the Hyatt Regency Dallas once again. But this time, it was as one of the celebrity escorts.

BTW, the Browns’ gift was timed just perfectly. September is Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month.


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