Friends in Minnesota
When Derek Hanewacker was only 10 months old he was diagnosed with Hurler Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that causes progressive physical and mental deterioration, with death usually occurring before the age of 10. Devastated to learn of their only child’s life-threatening disease, Derek’s parents, Holly and Scott, conferred with their medical providers in their hometown of Ortonville, Mich., to determine the best treatment option. They soon learned that the best place to treat Derek’s disease was “hands down,” the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital, using stem cell therapy treatments funded in part by grants from Children’s Cancer Research Fund.
The Hanewacker family arrived in Minnesota in January, 2011 to begin Derek’s workup for his umbilical cord blood transplant. Soon, the family was introduced to the Care Partners® program, which provides volunteer support to families facing treatment for childhood cancer and rare illnesses. Holly admits that she was initially hesitant to accept outside help. “We were so used to doing things on our own at home. If we needed to go to the store — we simply got in our car and went to the store.” But knowing that things would be much different in an unfamiliar city, and knowing that Holly would be alone at times when Scott needed to go back to Michigan for work, the family gladly accepted the help.
Enter Care Partners family volunteers Nance Alexander and Barb Gurovitsch. Nance and Barb contacted Holly immediately and began offering assistance, support and friendship. Nance and Barb have provided rides to and from the airport, given breaks to Holly while Derek was in the hospital and have helped with errands and other needs. They also helped make Valentine’s Day special for Holly and Scott by staying with Derek so that the couple could enjoy dinner together.
Nance and Barb have both felt the enormous rewards of helping families during such a stressful time.
Holly states that the support that Nance and Barb have provided has been “wonderful,” but she is not the only one who has benefited. Derek looked forward to his visits with Nance and Barb, and the feeling was mutual. Nance says that she and Barb loved spending time with the whole family, but especially with Derek since “we are ‘grandma wannabes’ and get to be that with him.”
As Derek continues to get stronger and gets closer to returning home, Nance and Barb know that they will keep in touch with the Hanewacker family for years to come. As Barb explains why the Care Partners experience is so special, “I have the opportunity to see and talk to families while they are here for months at a time and thus build a relationship. It is extremely rewarding to listen to them and offer the support when it is most needed.”