ESMERELDA

I had never seen a face like it. The 12 year old girl stood backed into the doorway. She didn’t want to be there, but she didn’t want to be anywhere. Her face was flushed nearly purple, not with rage…but with something else. 


I was checking in kids who were coming to be a part of our monthly Sibling Support group. Recognizing that the siblings of kids who are in hospital can almost disappear when their brothers and sisters are ill, that all the attention goes to the sick one, I volunteer for the EAMF.org and we entertain the siblings, for only one hour, on the third Thursday of each month.


They start arriving with their parents and aunties at around 5:45pm. We register them, give them pens and stickers to make their own name tags…and sometimes you have to cajole them, encourage them. They either don’t want to leave their Mom, or they’re shy. They’re not joiners. 


But this young girl, was something else. The pain on her face made me draw breath and I actually clutched my chest. The pain and anguish on that beautiful face was something I had never seen before. It’s natural to see someone’s face and try to translate their emotion, but this was unfathomable. It was shock…a deep deep sadness…but dry eyed. There were no tears, nor signs of recent tears, yet it was the face of someone who would sob buckets, if only she could. 


"Go on…go in," her Mom urged smiling softly. "You’ll enjoy it, you’ll see."


Her name was added to the list, and her Mom wrote Esmerelda on her name tag and put it on her jacket. 


One of the Volunteers, Angelika was called to take Esmerelda inside. 


I lost sight of her then, focusing on the steady stream of kids from five and up who were coming in. Tonight was HipHop night. We would break them into groups, each one offering a different dance move that we would then perform for their parents in an hour’s time. 


After 30 minutes when even the shyest kids would start to join in, having chosen their own animal peaked cap and some crazy ‘sun’ glasses, they would start to dance, or high five, or twirl. Some just stand there, not knowing what to do next, and a volunteer will gently encourage them to become a part of the group or just be with them. 


From across the room, I could see she was sitting in chairs at the front of the space. She was with another little girl and a volunteer. They were talking gently, but her face was the same, unable to be comforted, sitting stiffly, withdrawn.


We all danced, and then 30 minutes later, packets of chips and water are handed out, and the kids all sit at a table with their new friends, all laughing and talking, and cramming the goodies into their smiling faces. 


‘Husky hat’ she cried with joy, reaching out to the hat that another little girl from my group had replaced with a tiger hat instead! ‘Husky hat’ she said again, reaching out to me as I passed it to her. A peaked hat with ears and the soft face of the dog on it. The normal color had returned to her face. She was animated and ran back to her seat to show her new friend. They sat opening packets of Doritos and laughing. She looked like any little girl now. Gone was the tension, the pain…I still can’t describe it. 


I went out to get the organizers. "You have to see this," I said and urged them into the room.


"You did this," I said. 


In one hour, this organization had done what it set out to do, for a short period of time. To take these kids out of whatever situation they were in. To play, to laugh, to meet new friends. 

Why eamf?

Liz.png

Why eamf? That’s a question I am asked frequently and don’t always know how to answer. It started with an idea that stemmed from a need. Someone had to step up and address the need, to shine light on the situation. So, why not me? And subsequently, why not eamf?


When my daughter was in the 7th grade, a good friend of hers fell gravely ill and was admitted to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles where she stayed for several months.  After many subsequent visits to CHLA, I was inspired to become a volunteer.  I have always loved being of service to others. In fact, I was given he nickname “Nurse Jane” by the time I was 5 years old; cornered the market on babysitting in my neighborhood by age 13; was a camp counselor with the Muscular Dystrophy Association for 2 years while in high school; worked at preschools every summer; studied Child Development in college; and raised two very strong independent daughters. Being around children was second nature to me, so becoming a volunteer at a children’s hospital was a no brainer.


After donating close to 3200 hours over a 5 year period, and working with seriously ill children in various departments of the hospital (Bone Marrow Transplant, Pediatric Intensive Care units, Cancer and Transplant wards), I knew that there was more for me to do. I saw a need firsthand, which was not being addressed by the hospital, medical staff, or parents. I watched as parents became overwhelmed by the seriousness of childhood illness. I watched  families begin to crumble amid the chaos of the health crises. And most importantly, I watched as the brothers and sisters of the patients retreated into a darkness of fear, loneliness, and uncertainty.

throwback.png


These circumstantially neglected siblings were experiencing grief, anger, abandonment, fear, guilt and sadness. They were suffering in silence. I felt it was of the utmost importance that I apply my heartfelt passion, energy and resources to take action and start the conversation about the Sibling Situation and work toward finding a long lasting viable solution to their dilemma. Thus, in April of 2009 the Elizabeth A. Mac Donald Charitable Foundation was founded to address the issues that families with children in health crises face. I have surrounded myself with like-minded, highly skilled and focused individuals who share my passion to help make eamf’s mission successful. I am very proud to say that we are the only nonprofit organization in the nation that focuses solely on the wellbeing of siblings, and not just siblings of children in hospitals, but all brothers and sisters of children battling any health crises, whether physical or mental.

Lizreading.png


eamf is spearheading the movement to bring these invisible siblings out of the background and into the light so that they can get the care and attention they need. Our vision is that siblings grow into adults with increased empathy, patience, kindness and goodwill because of their experiences growing up with a brother or sister battling a physical or mental health issue.


We cannot heal all of the emotional scars of pediatric illness on our own, but we aim to limit the size of the wound. And with a little help and support, I believe we have a good chance of doing just that.