Three-year old Chloe and 19-month old Raylan unwrapped dolls, toys and books in front of a brightly lit Christmas tree Dec. 14 while their parents, Jessica and Matthew, watched. What looked like any other Christmas celebration is especially meaningful to this young family because Raylan’s recent terminal diagnosis means it may be the last Christmas they are all together. The early festivity that brought joy to the family was made possible with the help of Catholic Charities of Central Florida in Leesburg and a network of concerned agencies and individuals who gave the family what could be called a Christmas miracle.
The family has endured much hardship over the past few years. In 2012, Matthew fell off a roof and sustained an injury causing chronic pain that has prevented him from working. Also, this past year Chloe had to have surgery and Jessica has had health issues with her thyroid. Six months ago Raylan fell while playing and tests revealed a diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) a highly aggressive and difficult to treat brain tumor found at the base of the brain. The family was devastated.
Today, Jessica spends her weekdays taking Raylan to his radiation treatments in Orlando and works weekends as a registered nurse. His treatment will end Jan. 3. The hope is that Raylan will have another year of life. “We found his (tumor) incidentally, so it kind of gives us more time with him, which is a blessing in disguise,” Jessica said.
A United Way employee learned of the family’s story and reached out to case manager Joanne Lepold to see if Catholic Charities could help. Lepold met the family in early December. Moved by their plight, she reached out to her extensive network, including the Society of St. Vincent de Paul at St. Timothy Parish in Lady Lake, the United Way, several member companies of Business Networking International, as well as various other local groups. They all joined together to give Raylan and his family the merriest Christmas possible.
Gifts were purchased for the family by The Villarettes, a group of women from Belvedere. Girls and Boys Club of Lake and Sumter Counties procured cast member passes to Walt Disney World for the family. Business Networking International is covering January’s mortgage and other expenses.
“It’s amazing how when you’re in need, people come and help. It is very humbling,” said Jessica. And that is exactly how Lepold described the family, referring to the modesty with which they responded when asked what the family needed for Christmas.
“The little boy wanted dinosaurs, coloring books and crayons. The little girl, believe it or not, wanted a cash register with coins because, when she goes to Orlando for her brother’s treatment, they have a cash register in the waiting room,” said Lepold. “So, it wasn’t that they were asking for the moon.”
“What is so heartwarming is that everybody steps up to the plate,” said Lepold. In looking at all that has been done, knowing the family will continue to need help in the months ahead, Lepold acknowledges that this is not just a story of grief and courage, but of what a community can do when it seeks to become the hands and feet of Christ. This is the Corporal Works of Mercy in action, across faiths, cultures and economic stratus.
“It is just unbelievable the networking we’ve been able to do up here,” she added. “If we need anything, we can talk to one agency and it’s amazing the other connections they have.”
Of course, what Jessica hopes for most, is in God’s hands. She fought back the tears and shared her deepest desire for the new year. “I need a miracle. I want a miracle for my son,” she said. “I want to see my son grow up. That’s what I want.”
For now, it is the daily miracle of life and generosity of a caring community that helps the family appreciate the here and now and gives them hope for a new tomorrow.