When I first came to The Children’s Inn in June of 2016, I had no idea what it would mean to me. The next several months, though, certainly ended up being some of the most transformational months of my life. I first came to The Inn as a 19-year-old who had somehow managed to finish his first year of college, even while dealing with a harsh genetic disease known as sickle cell anemia. After staying at The Inn for nearly five months, I left as a man, entering his second year of college, having been healed from the disease that once shaped his life.
Sickle cell anemia is a genetic disease which causes red blood cells to form in the shape of a crescent moon instead of the regular donut shape. These misshapen cells can cause clotting and damage to blood vessels in any organ or part of the body. I was diagnosed with sickle cell at birth and have been dealing with the complications of my disease my entire life. All that changed when I received a stem cell transplant at the NIH. My younger brother, Luke, was my donor. Now, my body produces normal red blood cells and the symptoms of my disease have completely disappeared!
The Children’s Inn was a crucial component to the success of my transplant and recovery. While the NIH provides treatment free of cost, they do not always provide for housing. Without the free lodging The Inn provided, the transplant process would have been a financial hardship for my family. However, the beauty of The Children’s Inn does not merely lie in free lodging but also in the wealth of support that it provides to families. While staying in an unfamiliar place is difficult, The Inn truly does strive to be “A Place Like Home.” One of the ways The Inn staff achieve this is by encouraging people to get to know each other. In late June, The Inn held a program called the Teen Retreat where teenagers and young adults participated in two days filled with fun activities. At the end of this time, I had made several friends with whom I continue to keep in contact. Other programs at The Inn that facilitate friendship are the Young Adult Social Hour, Young Adult Relaxation, and the Young Adult Night Out. Through these, I learned about other people’s personal stories. A common thread in all of them was the relief that they felt that they were at the NIH and The Children’s Inn and with people who understood what it’s like to live with a severe illness. We found comradeship with one another, and through that, we supported one another. Some of us were at the beginning of our journeys, and others were nearing the end. The advice and stories we shared strengthened each other, and gave us comfort in trying times. Without The Inn, it would be unlikely we would have ever met, and that would be a shame.
More than just providing for both the physical and relational needs of families, The Children’s Inn goes above and beyond to ensure the educational success of its residents. I am a recipient of a scholarship from The Inn’s INNrichment Fund. The INNrichment Fund’s goal is to enrich the educational experiences of the kids with illnesses that stay at The Inn. Residents can use the funds to pay for art, music, other extracurricular classes, or schooling. I will be using the scholarship for my upcoming semester of school. Now that I have been cured, I look forward to jumping into a full load of classes with the most energy I have ever had.
My experience at the NIH and The Children’s Inn will be one I remember for the rest of my life. I will hold the friendships that I have made with both residents and staff near to my heart. To all of the wonderful people who volunteer and support The Inn, my family and I thank you for your heart and your service.
Wishing you all the best,