Parents start memorial fund after death of daughter

| Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011

An organization that has been providing support for local families struggling to care for severely ill, injured and disabled children is celebrating 35 years of advocacy.

The Kelly Anne Dolan Memorial Fund allows healthcare professionals in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware to apply online for assistance for their patient families in need of help with payments for overdue bills and other necessities.

Peggy Dolan of Philadelphia, executive director, established the fund with her husband Joe in October 1976, just one day after the passing of their daughter Kelly, 6. The experiences the couple encountered during the care of their child who endured a five-year battle with aplastic anemia and a rare form of Leukemia, moved them to start the foundation.

"I can remember that I was at the hospital for a few weeks -- I lived at the hospital with Kelly. On the sixth week I was on my way to the cafeteria for dinner. My husband said to me 'guess how much we've spent to park the car?' He said we paid $600 just for the month," recalls Dolan.

The Dolans went on to spend more time in the hospital after their third daughter, Kimberly, was diagnosed with the same disease that took her sister's life. The 4 year old underwent a life-saving bone marrow transplant which her father was the donor.

"When we were in the hospital we saw everything. I would sit next to a mom who was there as two of her kids were getting blood transfusions, children who had lost limbs, ones recovering from car accidents, and I even saw kids with birth defects with distorted faces and others who needed cranial surgery," remembers Dolan.

Throughout its 35 years, KADMF has assisted almost 20,000 families in similar situations with payments on more than 15,000 utility and phone bills. Checks were cut for more than 1,000 rent payments and more than 500 air conditioners were provided, along with more than 700 pieces of disability equipment.

"We've had families with co-pays that were $600 to $800 a month just to buy medications or complete needed therapies -- just extraordinary expenses. Even with electrical usage, no one thinks about those things, but it is critical to have," says Dolan.

Dolan acknowledges first-hand that when a family encounters the devastating illness in this tough economy, along with the rising cost of healthcare, their close unit is affected in various ways including emotionally, financially and psychologically. With this in mind, KADMF works hard to respond with requests for help within 24 to 72 hours.

"You think about how many families out there are headed by single parents. I really don't know how they do it. They try to maintain a career or job while taking care of severely ill children. We get a lot of referrals from grandparents who have been made the guardians. In some cases they may be sick themselves or on limited incomes," says Dolan.

Gwen Harcar, licensed clinical social worker, says she's witnessed KADMF offering concrete support when everything else might be in disarray in a family's life. She works at UPMC's Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and has worked with adult and pediatric medicine for seven years.

"I have found the Kelly Anne Dolan Memorial Fund to be one of the most reliable and dependable resources for the families I've encountered. Many groups offer support related to a specific diagnosis, but the KADMF is offered to any family who is experiencing a chronic or acute medical situation that requires extraordinary commitment from the family during an unanticipated medical crisis. In Western Pennsylvania there is certainly a need to lend support to families during critical situations," says Harcar.

Harcar says many children are transferred to Pittsburgh for specialized medical care. This includes children from Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. With many Pittsburgh hospitals offering specialized neonatal intensive care units, level one trauma services to children and pediatric specialists, many of these families travel hours to meet with doctors who can help their children. Harcar says throughout the years she has worked with families throughout Westmoreland and Fayette counties.

"Many of these families are hard-working families who experience unexpected illness with a son or daughter, or have a child with a chronic medical issue. These families will make every sacrifice possible to be with their child," says Harcar.

"As the economy continues to change, families are put in a more desperate position. It is heartbreaking to see a parent who wants to be at their child's bedside but is torn because if they miss another day of work there is another bill that may not get paid. With a critically or chronically ill child, the last thing a parent wants to see is a late charge or shut-off notice from a utility company," she continues.

Dolan says that given the different challenges that many families face, KADMF plans to continue to be a strong support for them. She says recognizing the vast need in the Pittsburgh area for help, her organization anticipates opening up a local office in the city in the next five years.

"The fund is like a responsibility now. If I don't do this who will• I know what it is like and if I can't continue to give to families who need help -- who else will• It's a way for me to give back," says Dolan.

"There were times I'd come home from the hospital after having a difficult day, I'd find a brown paper bag on my doorstep. It would be a complete dinner for us from one of my friends. You don't know what that felt like. It was relief that something was taken off your plate. It's all those simple things that can make an incredible difference to someone".

More information about the Kelly Anne Dolan Memorial Fund can be found here .

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