When friends and relatives face crisis, tragedy and heartbreak, many of us offer help.
“If you need anything, just call,” we say. “We’re here for you.”
We mean it. But it’s not enough.
Alan and Lisa Doran lived through a nightmare last summer. Their daughter Rachel — a rising senior at Cornell University, National Merit Commended Scholar at Staples High School, talented Players costume designer, and founder of her own pajama company — developed a rare reaction to common medications.
She suffered severe burns to 95% of her body. She then developed another life-threatening syndrome. On August 17 — after 35 harrowing days — Rachel died.
Rachel Doran, after her Staples High School graduation.
Her parents made it through that awful time thanks to wonderful doctors, caring hospital staffs, and many supportive friends.
And those friends helped by not simply saying, “just call.” On their own, they figured out what Alan, Lisa and their younger daughter Ellie needed. Then — without burdening the family — they acted swiftly, decisively and efficiently to make it happen.
When Rachel was in Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, for example, a woman found a boutique hotel 2 blocks away.
She booked it. Lisa never wanted to leave Rachel’s bedside. But with a place to sleep — and shower — she was able to take care of herself, as well as her daughter.
Another friend showed up every morning with healthy muffins and a protein shake.
“People caring for loved ones eat junk — if they eat at all,” Lisa says. “Having that food, every day, was so important. I could never have done that on my own.”
Countless gestures like that sustained the Dorans during the most horrific time of their lives.
Rachel Doran (right) and her sister Ellie.
But how many people have friends with the resources to book a hotel room, or bring fresh food to the hospital every day?
Alan says his family’s experience at Bridgeport Hospital and Columbia Presbyterian opened their eyes to the reality that during a critical illness, most people are on their own.
The New York facility, for example, draws patients from all over the world. Families — if they can get there — have no support network nearby. Countless other obstacles — finances, language, you name it — conspire to make a medical emergency even more daunting than it already is.
Alan and Lisa know how fortunate they are. They could take time off work to devote all their time and energy to Rachel. They had “incredible care” at 2 hospitals. And they had the communication skills to talk clearly and often with those superb doctors and nurses.
They realize — despite the tragic ending — how lucky they were, in those respects.
Rachel and her boyfriend Rob traveled to Cuba during spring break. This is his favorite photo of her.
After Rachel died, the Dorans were devastated. But they wanted to find some sense in a senseless situation.
So — keeping their daughter’s spirit, beauty, kindness, style and wit alive — they’ve created Rach’s Hope.
The mission is to help others weather the storm of critical illness. “We want people to have a team like we and Rachel had,” Lisa says.
The foundation’s name has special meaning. “Hope” was Rachel’s middle name. The Dorans always had hope that she would recover. Her boyfriend said hope got him through every day. Today, the word “Hope” is tattooed — in her handwriting — across his chest.
And, Alan says, “we know Rachel would hope that no family goes through what we did. But if they do, she’d hope they’d have the resources that we did.”
Rachel’s Hope will make a concrete difference. For example, it will partner with hotels, and negotiate VRBO home rental rates.
It will also provide for items like housing, transportation to and from the hospital and outpatient appointments, access to mental health professionals, therapies not covered by insurance, meals (including gift cards to Uber Eats and Seamless), childcare and respite care during and after ICU stays, advocates to assist with hospital bills and health insurance communication, therapy dog visits, and funding for wellness expenses.
The Dorans are taking all that they’ve learned, and paying it forward — figuratively and literally — to other families.
A kickoff fundraiser is set for Saturday, March 2 (7:30 p.m., Penfield Pavilion, Fairfield). The date has special meaning: It’s the day after what would have been Rachel’s 22nd birthday.
“Rachel always told me that instead of a wedding, she’d have a big party at the beach,” Lisa says. “She wanted Bodega Bites catering, and Tito’s vodka bar. They’ll be there, and it’s on the water. We’re having the wedding she hoped to have.”
Her family and friends will share stories. But you don’t have to know and love Rachel to attend. Everyone is welcome. There’s live music, and huge live and silent auctions.
As for the dress code: When Rachel was 11, she started Rachel’s Rags. The company made intricate cotton and fleece pajamas. She sold them at stores and craft fairs, and on Etsy.
Rachel loved “pajama chic.” So attendees should wear pajama bottoms, and a chic top.
There’s one more thing: The day before the fundraiser — on March 1, Rachel’s birthday — Rach’s Hope is starting a “Cozy Across Campus” social media campaign. The idea is for students everywhere to go to class in pajama bottoms.
The attire will draw attention to the importance of comforting people in need — and offering hope.
(Click here for more information and tickets to Rach’s Hope March 2 fundraiser. Can’t go? No problem — click here to sign in or register to bid online for the silent auction. And click here to donate any amount.)