Turkey, greens, pumpkin pie: They're our Thanksgiving traditions, but those special traditions are immediately put on hold when our child is sent to the hospital.
It's a reality great-grandparents Carolyn and Bobby Pannell faced when their two-year-old great-grandson Gray Holden was rushed to Le Bonheur with a bacterial infection.
"You know I just didn't think there was any chance for him," says Bobby.
Gray's health improved, and their medical questions were answered. He would stay at the hospital through Thanksgiving, so then came the next question: "How do you make those normal Thanksgiving traditions happen so that it is a special time?" says Thomas Hobson, Director of Child Life Services at Le Bonheur. "Chances are it's already going to be unforgettable anyway because your child is in the hospital, but then how do you sort of bring those two and make it a positive?"
For this Thanksgiving, that's where the Haley family stepped in, cooking instead of their family of six for 40 people at the Fed Ex Family House who are in situations like Gray's family.
"I found out about the house and what it's for and who it's for. It just kind of fit," says Doug Haley, "We've been blessed. We have three healthy kids and if we ever needed something I can't imagine going and asking for it."
Having a home-cooked meal, with all the trimmings and completed by good company, gave families at the Fed Ex Family House more to be thankful for.
"I just can't believe how nice everybody's been here. It's just been our home away from home for the last few days, and everybody's so gracious and I just can't imagine … it just makes me want to do this for somebody else," says Gray's grandmother Rhonda Sellers, "We're thankful that we have a little boy who is getting better and his prognosis is good and we have more to be thankful for this year than we ever have."
But for the Pannells, it never mattered if they had Thanksgiving at home or the hospital. As long as their family was together.
"As long as I can be with my family, it don't matter where. But it's just so nice to know that they … that people care. That is what has touched me so. People care enough to build this magnificent place and let you come in here and make yourself at home," says Carolyn.
Child Life also steps in for families staying at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital during the holidays. If there's a special tradition the families have –watching a certain movie on Thanksgiving, for example – Child Life goes out of their way to get for the families at the hospital.