Wings of Hope provides children, families with services during time of need

Published 4:13 pm Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Every year thousands of people are faced with the staggering news that they have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Many adults seek the aid of hospice or a similar organization, but when it’s a child who’s been diagnosed, parents are often left wondering where to turn.

Wings of Hope is a foundation specifically for terminally ill children on hospice, established by a retired physician and a retired nurse who own a hospice, and a Shelby County assistant district attorney.

“Some of the assistance Wings of Hope will provide will be emotional support, meals, house cleaning, lawn care, assistance on finding programs and services to benefit the families,” said Tonya Willingham, Wings of Hope’s vice president. “As the foundation grows financially our hope is to be able to provide scholarships to families to help pay mortgage, rent and utility bills.”

Willingham said she first began to realize the need for a foundation like Wings of Hope when she lost two children, 5-month-old Piper Olivia in 2006 and 9-month-old Hanna Reagan in Feb. 2010, both to the genetic disease Spinal Muscular Atrophy.

“I knew there wasn’t any specific agency that could help provide us assistance working with our insurance company, finding agencies that would help provide services for our terminally ill child to give them the best possible quality of life available, or a place that would help with the daily menial tasks of laundry, cooking, cleaning and lawn care,” Willingham said.

“We were blessed to have a wonderful hospice team who happened to also see the need for one agency where a family with a child on hospice care could go for support. After discussing it with Hanna’s hospice group, we decided to form this foundation.”

One member of Hanna’s hospice group, Dr. Dan Trotman of Hospice Complete, got the idea for the foundation when he worked with a young patient who had a brain tumor whose family was having difficulty providing the necessary finances.

Trotman and his employees volunteered their time, money, food and furniture to the family, and even gave them an early Christmas since the boy wasn’t expected to live past the holiday season.

“I realized at the time there was no organization in Alabama that provided for children on hospice,” Trotman said. “I also realized, as a pediatrician, that nothing else matters when your child is dying.”

Trotman spoke with one of his business partners, Stephanie Miller, a registered nurse, about the idea as well as mentioning it to Willingham. Both supported the idea, and Wings of Hope was born.

The board selected children with a butterfly as their symbol, Willingham said, because the butterfly represents everlasting life.

It currently is the only organization of its kind in the state and serves mainly central Alabama, but Willingham hopes to see it grow in the future.

“It is my dream that Wings of Hope will be able to service all of the Southeast so every family facing the death of a child will not feel alone and can spend as much quality time together as a family creating memories; not worrying about the menial things in life, but enjoying every day, because every day is a gift,” Willingham said.

For further information, or to volunteer or donate, call 988-8669.