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Hospice of the Western Reserve is kicking off a program to recognize “Hospice Heroes,” a community of individuals, families, and school, church or service groups across Northern Ohio who host fundraising activities that help the non-profit agency provide care to all who need it, regardless of their ability to pay.
Last year, the hospice covered unreimbursed expenses and charity care valued at nearly $5 million in the Northern Ohio region. According to Bill Sluzewski, development officer, fundraising events range from simple activities like selling candy bars, to larger events, like craft shows, benefit concerts and golf outings. “The organizers are often family members or friends of a patient who had been in our care,” he explained.
“Whether it’s a one-time activity or an annual event, it’s a legacy of love that honors their loved one and keeps their memory alive by giving back to other patients and families.” Such is the case for “Misty’s Wish,” created in 2010 by Sherri Viccarone, a resident of Cleveland’s West Park neighborhood, in loving memory of Misty, her teenaged daughter.
Misty, who was diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor, was cared for by Hospice of the Western Reserve during the final stage of her life. The non-profit agency serving Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain and Summit Counties, offers one of the few pediatric hospice and palliative programs in the country.
Hospice helped with Misty’s medical supplies, medicine, physical and psychological therapies, and also supported Sherri and the extended family by guiding them the complex healthcare maze and providing emotional and spiritual support throughout the illness. They also gave Misty an unexpected gift.
One day, a hospice team member asked Misty if there was one wish she would like to have granted before she died. Her response was a surprise to everyone: “I want my Dad to adopt me.” (Her stepfather was the only father she had known as she was growing up.) Within just ten days, Hospice of the Western Reserve’s legal team worked with a Cleveland judge to grant Misty’s wish to be legally adopted.
When Misty died, her mother, Sherri, was determined to tell her story to help other families coping with their children’s terminal illnesses, and to keep her daughter’s memory alive. She started out by organizing an event called the “Misty Viccarone Christmas Memorium,” which involved collecting teddy bears and donating them to the Cleveland Clinic’s Oncology Department for children undergoing cancer treatment.
In 2010, Mrs. Viccarone and a dedicated group of volunteers expanded upon initial efforts by hosting a commemorative fundraiser with bowling, raffles and prizes. They called the event “Misty’s Wish,” a reference to the final wish Hospice of the Western Reserve helped to fulfill.
The event raised more than$5,000 for the non-profit agency’s pediatric palliative care patients. It was so successful that the group decided to make it an annual event. Last year’s event, held at Yorktown Lanes in Parma Hts., generated an incredible $8,600. Mrs. Viccarone acknowledges that having a child diagnosed with a terminal illness is something no parent can ever anticipate or be equipped to deal with emotionally or psychologically.
However, she is determined to create something positive from the tragic circumstances. An important part of her mission is helping other parents and caregivers by expanding awareness of pediatric palliative care.
“When I first tell people about the mission of Misty’s Wish, they’re sometimes shocked and surprised,” she said. “There’s a misconception that hospice care is only for the elderly. In fact, a co-worker who even knew Misty had died of a brain tumor asked me why there was a need for a pediatric hospice team.
My answer was simple: `Because children die.’” Misty died on July 27, 1996, but thanks to the love and dedication of her family and friends, her memory lives on to help others through Misty’s Wish.