Turning Tragedy Around: Families Saving Lives

turning tragedy around

Local Foundations Support Causes Aimed at Saving Kids From Congenital Diseases and Dehydration

By Dave Woods • Official Kids Mag

Patrick and Meredith Woodruff are turning tragedy around by using a tragic family event as an opportunity to save lives.

“On March 28, 2011 we had our second son, Miller,” Patrick said. “Meredith, my wife, delivered Miller without a problem. Meredith’s mom was at the house helping out. She was concerned over Miller’s lack of movement. She kept saying ‘I wish he would fuss and fight and cry, but he just lays there.’ We just thought we had a laid back baby. At two or three weeks old, all you do is feed them, swaddle them and put them to bed.”

The Woodruffs made an appointment with a pediatrician. The news was not good.

“I knew from the doctor’s eyes that something was wrong,” Patrick recounted. “Miller’s limbs and his head just dangled.”

They rushed to the hospital. Tests were done.

Spinal Muscular Atrophy, SMA, was the diagnosis,” Patrick said. “There were no treatments. The doctor just said… ‘Go home and love your baby.’”

Only 87 days

Miller lost his battle with SMA on June 23, 2011. But, the Woodruff’s fight to raise awareness of SMA, and to raise money to help fund and find a cure continues today.  As part of their commitment, they started The Miller McNeil Woodruff Foundation. Their goal is to raise awareness, fund research and offer support to other families who are faced with SMA.

Fundraisers started small. The couple designed a logo for the foundation. They produced hats and T-shirts. To mark the first anniversary of Miller’s birth, and celebrate his short life, they held a party. Ticket sales exploded and a larger venue was needed.

“We sold 100 tickets in an hour,” Patrick explained.  “Then we sold another 100. We ended up selling 800 or 900 the first year. It’s amazing that a baby who only lived 87 days continues to touch so many people.”

’Just brilliant’

Today, only a few years later, the family and foundation continue to raise money to fund their cause.

“The not-for-profit organization is run with 100-percent volunteer effort,” Patrick said.  “We are most proud that all of the funds go back to the community we live in. We just made a five-year pledge of $250,000 to Children’s Northwest, and we donate to Cure SMA, a national organization.”

Patrick said kids of all ages have made a difference in raising funds to help fund finding a cure though the Woodruff’s foundation.

“Kids are just brilliant,” Patrick said.  “They have done what they call a Miller’s Market.  Every year kids at Elmwood Middle School in Rogers hold a shopping market as a fundraiser.  They would present us with a check for $ 2,000 to $3,000. We are reaping the benefits now.”

In December, 2016 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a treatment for SMA called Spinraza.

“Kids helping kids is great,” he said.  “It teaches them at a young age about life and that you have to give back. Life is not easy sometimes. There is adversity. You just have know how to deal with it and make it a positive.”

Hydration for Life!

Rhonda Fincher works tirelessly to raise kid and adult awareness of the dangers of dehydration and heat stroke. Her son, Kendrick, fell victim to a heat stroke following his first day of football practice on August 7, 1995. He was just 13-years old. He passed shortly after from complications from dehydration and the stroke. To make sure that her son had not died in vain, she established the Kendrick Fincher Hydration for Life campaign and foundation. It is her mission.

“At the time he died, there was little information for prevention of heat stroke,” Rhonda said. “We decided that someone needed to start educating. Heat stoke is 100-percent preventable. To lose a child to something  that was 100-percent preventable… something had to be done.”

And she did. Rhonda and her foundation work throughout the year raising awareness of proper hydration and its importance.

“Water is the best source of hydration,” she explained. “One of the things we promote is proper hydration throughout the school day. Studies show that over 75-percent of children arriving at after school practices are already dehydrated. If you mix that with excessive sweating on a hot day, it creates a dangerous situation.”

Even mild dehydration isn’t something that should be experienced. Lack of proper hydration has other consequences, she cautions kids.

“Even when it’s not dangerous, it’s still not healthy,” she stressed. “It affects learning when you are dehydrated at school. It’s for the safety of the children, the health of the child and so they can learn and concentrate.”

Getting the message of proper hydration to kids is important to Rhonda.

“I hear from parents frequently who are trying to make sure their kids are drinking enough water,” she explained.  “But, when they hear it from someone else, from a friend their own age, then it sinks in.”