Mikey Thurin, 9, who had leukemia, and his mom, Lisa Thurin,… (Barbara Haddock Taylor,…)
The Thurin family's getaway weekend in Ocean City came with all the perks.
There were fabulous meals, an oceanfront hotel suite filled with snacks, fruit and drinks, and activities to keep them entertained.
It was a true celebration vacation, and it was provided courtesy of the Casey Cares Foundation.
The Baltimore-based nonprofit has offered these excursions as part of its Celebration Vacation program since 2001 as a way to support its mission of helping families with critically ill children.
"This is a way of getting families away from the stress they're under," said Pam Goode, communications director for the Casey Cares Foundation. "They have a steady schedule of hospital treatments and doctors' visits. We thought they needed a short break in between."
For Jim and Lisa Thurin, the December getaway to Ocean City was just what they and their 9-year-old son, Mikey, needed. When Mikey was 4, he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. After years of treatment, chemotherapy and many side effects, his prognosis is good and he is now only required to visit the hospital for a monthly blood test.
Still, with a mound of medical bills, the family wouldn't have been able to afford a vacation.
"The people at Casey Cares are so caring and kind. They did everything and anything they could to make our weekend memorable," said Lisa Thurin. "They just took such good care of us."
She said everywhere they went that weekend they were made to feel special. One of their favorite spots was the Sunset Grille in West Ocean City, where they were treated to great food and top-notch service.
"This was such a great getaway," she said. "They made all the arrangements. All we had to do was get in the car and go."
The Celebration Vacation program is offered for children, from birth up to age 18, who have been diagnosed with a critical illness. Families are included in the vacations. Approximately 80 percent of the critically ill children Casey Cares works with suffer from some form of cancer.
"We're a very family-oriented charity. Even if a child is diagnosed at birth, we believe it affects the whole family," said Goode.
The destinations are usually a short car ride away from home, just in case there's a need to get back to the doctor or hospital. The most popular destinations are New York City, Hershey Park, Ocean City and Great Wolf Lodge in the Poconos.
"The kids love it. The parents love it," said Goode. "We hear all the time how it's nice to see a smile on their faces even in the midst of the treatments they're getting."
Since the program began, they've provided 152 vacations.
In 2010 alone, the program offered 32 getaways for families living in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware and the District of Columbia.
For Bryasia Butler-Brady, who suffers from a rare brain tumor, New York City was the spot she chose to celebrate her 15th birthday. Her Celebration Vacation took place in December and included tickets to the Lion King on Broadway, dinner at Planet Hollywood and a hotel room packed with goodies.
Bryasia's mother, Janice Brady, said they got to choose where they wanted to go, what they wanted to do and all the planning was done for them. In the past, the family has taken other Celebration Vacations in Baltimore.
"It has really been a major uplift for our family," said Brady. "It allows her to forget she's sick and to just be a child for the day."
Bryasia's tumor was discovered in 2005.
"Our lives have been totally different ever since," said Brady. "It's not easy but places like Casey Cares takes a lot of the pain away."
The tumor has shrunk, but Bryasia suffers from chronic pain and has had serious side effects. She recently started nerve blocks to help control the pain.
Brady stresses that the people at the nonprofit never forget to call or to think of her family and often send over goodies like pizza and movies.
"If it wasn't for them, I don't know what we would do," she said. "They live by their name; they care."
Casey Cares Foundation
Celebration Vacation is one of six programs focusing on critically ill children offered by the Casey Cares Foundation. The others include Family Festivities, Birthday Blasts, Kami's Jammies, Caring Connection Parties and Better Together.
These programs include tickets to sports events, adventure parks and shows, new sleepwear, surprise birthday deliveries, and themed group parties.
On March 26 the Casey Cares Foundation will host its Bustles, Boots and Blackjack 11th annual fundraising gala. For more information on the Casey Cares Foundation, visit caseycaresfoundation.org.