Deborah Lewis called Friday morning a miracle.
Trading tears for a smile, Lewis watched his eldest – Annabelle, 8 – splash in the waves at Newport Beach and, at one point, rode them. Friday’s shore adventure was one of the few outings the Lewis family has been able to do in the past three years, she said.
Annabelle, who suffers from acute lymphocytic leukemia, was one of many children in the water as part of Miracles for Kids’ annual surf and paddle camps.
At least a dozen families and about 40 kids hit the sands near Newport Pier for the third and final in this year’s series hosted by the Irvine nonprofit. Two other such events also took place in Newport earlier this month.
Miracles for Kids co-founder and CEO Autumn Strier said the one-day event was completely free for all of its attendees — gear, food, gas, even instructors, who came. from Waves of Impact and Boardriders.
Kids could learn to surf or try stand-up paddle boarding or, if they prefer, stay ashore and help build sand castles or create arts and crafts.
The idea behind the event, she said, had a lot to do with the population the organization serves.
Strier said all participating families on Friday were referred to Miracles for Kids by local Southern California children’s hospitals. Some came by shuttle from the association’s Miracle Manor in Orange, which offers subsidized housing for families with children facing a critical or chronic condition. Others drove themselves.
“[We serve] low-income families with seriously ill children who, due to their limited resources, have very little opportunity to get out of the hospital, get out of their homes and spend a day in the sun and at the beach, which we we all know living in Southern California is expensive,” Strier said.
“It was one of the very first things we thought of. How could we make it something special for our families who need a mental wellness day?” Strier says. “A day away of their daily reality with a sick child.”
The Lewis family traveled to Newport Beach from Rosamond, an unincorporated community in Kern County.
Lewis said her family was referred to Miracles for Kids by Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where Annabelle had been receiving treatment for a few months. Lewis said Friday was the family’s second time at camp, although they themselves have only been connected to the organization for less than a year.
“The first time we came…was our first family outing,” Lewis said, adding that the first time was earlier this month on another of the summer camp dates. “We can’t just go out. His immune system is weak. We don’t really have money to go out and if we travel she might get sick. We could get sick, spread it and it was a blessing to be able to get out and enjoy Mother Nature, enjoy the beach, which is what we did every summer [before Annabelle’s diagnosis].”
Parent Maria Godoy said the surf and paddleboarding event was an opportunity for her son, Julio, to be just a teenager.
Godoy said the family has been with the organization since at least 2013. Julio was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a rare blood disease in which the body stops producing enough blood cells. She said Julio needed a bone marrow transplant, but finding a potential partner just wasn’t possible at the time.
She said she felt her world was ending.
“Miracles for Kids, that’s what they call it: a miracle. Without them… they helped us with our rent; they helped us with the payment of our car; return gas. So we didn’t have to focus on revenue,” Godoy said. “We focused on our son and tried to fight for what he was going through.”
She said her daughter ended up being a perfect match and had a bone marrow transplant done in 2018 but the cells didn’t take. Julio continues to receive infusions every three weeks.
“He’s not cleared yet, but it means a lot to him to come here and be normal for a day. He doesn’t have to worry about medication. He doesn’t have to worry about the fact that “The sun is beating me too much; I can’t stay outside. He’s 16 now. He doesn’t have to worry,” Godoy said. “He can just worry about today being a normal teenager.”
Ryan Abraham knows this feeling better than anyone.
Miracles for Kids took care of him and his family when he was 4 years old and was diagnosed with life-threatening hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, his white blood cells attacking other blood cells. Abraham, now 18, is in remission.
The event was not happening when he was helped by the organization in 2008. His family did not benefit from Miracles for Kids for a very long time, having had to move to Ohio to complete his treatment, but Abraham n have not forgotten the help he gave them.
“I started volunteering here to give back because I feel like I owe everyone one,” said Abraham, who now lives in Irvine. “The world gave me a miracle. I feel like I should give everyone else a miracle too.
“[Some of these kids] have never been able to relax in their entire lives. All they felt was stress and not knowing what’s next. They can finally do things that we take for granted every day,” Abraham said. “So I think it’s very special and I love giving them the chance to do it.”
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