Family Spotlight: Lily's Story
When ten-year-old Lily began experiencing fainting spells and vision problems in late 2020, her mother Thea’s concern reached a tipping point. Lily had already been experiencing periodic low-grade fevers and lethargy for months but testing had revealed nothing out of the ordinary.
It was a trip to the optometrist in their hometown of Cheyenne, WY that finally set change in motion. The doctor pulled Thea aside and shared a concerning observation: Lily’s exam revealed retinal hemorrhaging – a symptom commonly seen in patients with leukemia.
Lily’s primary care doctor was equally alarmed and sent them immediately to Children’s Hospital Colorado. “I only packed an overnight bag,” Thea remembers. “I thought we would be home the next day.” Little did they know, Lily and Thea would be uprooted and far from home for more than a year.
While initial blood work and testing suggested leukemia, a biopsy later in the week revealed a more serious and frightening diagnosis: severe aplastic anemia. Thea was shocked to learn that this extremely rare disease was threatening the life of her daughter. Life-saving treatment plans were immediately put into place, and they mandated that Lily must stay near the hospital - far from familiar surroundings and support systems.
“As a single mom, I was already formulating a plan of how to take care of her,” Thea remembers. But as hotel stays depleted their savings, options dwindled. Their future financial stability was further threatened when the distance forced Thea to give up a beloved job. “I realized I didn’t have a plan,” Thea says, “and that was scary.” The final straw was a dangerous sewage leak at the friend’s home where they were staying, representing a huge health risk to Lily, whose treatments had already weakened her immune system.
It was at this point that Thea learned there was a safety net ready and waiting to stop their freefall. Luck was finally on their side when a last-minute referral from Lily’s medical team revealed an open apartment at Brent’s Place. Overwhelmed and exhausted, the mother-daughter duo arrived within hours, relieved to settle into their Safe-Clean space with the knowledge that their stay, no matter how long, would not impact the family’s finances. “I didn’t understand how people we’d never met before could be so kind,” Thea says.
Just a few weeks later, an entire Thanksgiving feast was delivered to their doorstep. At that point, “I didn’t know what I was going to do about food,” Thea remembers. “I had one paycheck in my account and hadn't signed up for benefits yet, so we froze it and ate for weeks.” The extensive meal and food support programming at Brent’s Place represented yet another significant need that had been anticipated.
With long-term accommodations in place and robust respite opportunities available, Thea was able to place her focus squarely on her daughter’s fluctuating health. Over the next few months, Lily’s disease failed to respond to treatment and the pair experienced a frightening rollercoaster of medical emergencies: an unsuccessful bone marrow transplant, severe sepsis, and respiratory failure.
Throughout it all, the Brent’s Place community rallied around Lily and Thea, providing support programming through weekly meals (including Boston Market - Lily's favorite!), craft kits, and more. Regular check-ins from staff members and creative outlets were a welcome relief to Thea as she did her best to manage the emotional turmoil that comes along with the life-threatening illness of a child. “There were days I couldn’t pull myself out of bed and needed to take care of my mental health,” she says. “Then Brent’s Place would offer to bring something fun for us to do together and it would turn the whole day around.”
In September, after what felt like months of back to back health scares, Lily’s medical team said it was time to try a second bone marrow transplant - this time with Thea as the donor. Within weeks, Thea was admitted to the hospital for the procedure. Moments after donating 1.4 liters of marrow from her hip, she asked to be taken to her daughter’s bedside. As Lily received her mother’s bone marrow, Thea took her hand and cried quietly, hoping that this time the transplant would be a success.
Days passed and Lily grew stronger. While Thea still held lingering doubts after the failed first transplant, she felt hope, too. It was well-placed: nineteen days after her second transplant, Lily was finally discharged from the hospital and returned to Brent’s Place just in time to celebrate her twelfth birthday, complete with a Halloween-themed cake. “Maybe,” Thea reflects, “I was always supposed to be her donor.”
Today, Lily continues to rest and heal at Brent’s Place, feeling stronger than she has in many months. The mother and daughter have even more reason to celebrate, too, with Thea’s recent engagement. And while this growing family is still taking Lily’s medical journey day by day, the reassurance Thea feels knowing that they have a home away from home for as long as they need it is truly invaluable.
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