The family of one critically ill child could not visit much. The cost of hotels and meals away from home was prohibitive.
The family of another found lodging miles from a hospital — but had no way to get back and forth. Parents of a third worried about care for their other children, while they tended to their sick one.
When a child is diagnosed with a critical illness, parents face a blizzard of decisions. They’re in a fog of uncertainty and fear, handling a hurricane of tasks.
Yet in the midst of all that activity and emotion, one more weather-related metaphor stands out: a ray of sunshine.
It comes, gracefully and lovingly, from Rach’s Hope. The Westport-based foundation honors Rachel Doran. In 2018 the Staples High School National Merit Commended Scholar — a rising senior at Cornell University, 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. After 35 harrowing days, Rachel died.
Despite their grief, her parents Alan and Lisa remembered the kindness shown by friends, hospital staff and strangers.
Small gestures — finding a hotel 2 blocks from the hospital; arriving with healthy muffins and protein shakes; taking care of Rachel’s sister — sustained the family at a time when they were so focused on Rachel that they had no time or energy to care for themselves.
Since then, Rach’s Hope has provided real, important sustenance and hope to families tossed by the tornado of a child’s critical illness.
For example, a Westport resident who teaches in another town knew of a student in intensive care at Yale New Haven Hospital. Rach’s Hope sent Uber cards for transportation, and Uber Eats for meals.
“Family members have to eat and sleep well, so they can be strong for their child or sibling,” Lisa notes.
Another boy in that same district is being treated in Boston. Rach’s Hope provided gas cards to the parents, and covers their hotel bill.
Columbia Presbyterian is a great hospital. But there is no reasonably priced hotel nearby. The Dorans formed a partnership with the Holiday Inn in Fort Lee, New Jersey. They pay a discounted rate for families who stay there — and the hotel provides shuttle service to the hospital.
Though its reach is wide, Rach’s Hope’s Westport roots are deep. Lisa’s niece volunteered as a counselor at Experience Camps — the Westport-based program for children whose parent, sibling or primary caregiver has died.
Last summer, Rach’s Hope sponsored 2 children for the camp. They’ll send 5 this year. A week for each child costs $2,500.
To raise funds, Rach’s friends, their families and others close to her –including W Hair & Color, Rothbard Ale + Larder and Le Rouge by Aarti — are sponsoring the 2nd annual “Rach’s Hope PJ Gala.”
It’s Saturday, February 29 (7:30 to 11 p.m., Penfield Pavilion, Fairfield). Last year’s inaugural event was fantastic: warm, fun and energetic.
And it brought in over $100,000.
(Yes, you’re supposed to wear PJs. Rachel had founded her own pajama company, Rachel’s Rags.)
It’s clear she touched a ton of people. Her sister Ellie and friends founded a flourishing Rach’s Hope chapter at Staples. The school’s volleyball team hosted a fundraiser of their own. And Rach’s Hope is one of the charities receiving proceeds from this year’s County Assembly dances.
They all believe in Rach’s Hope. And they hope everyone who knew Rachel — and many who did not — will support the February 29.
The storm of a child’s critical illness will never go away. But with Rach’s Hope’s help, those dark clouds may part just a bit.
(For tickets, more information or to make a donation, click here.)
PS: As a fashion design management major at Cornell, she was a research assistant in the Costume and Textile Collection, wrote for their blog, and became a curator.
Her mentor Denise Green called her “the kind of assistant every professor, collection manager and peer dreams about. She was curious, determined, passionate, smart, kind, and had a great sense of humor.”
A central exhibition space — which housed her own project a few months before she died — has been named in her honor. Click here for more information, and to donate.