In Pictures: New Program Honors Patients with Happy Memories
Family donates camera, canvases to Sit...Stay...PLAY as part of daughter's legacy
Cystic Fibrosis had wreaked havoc on Madison Ramsey’s body since she was born. While she had been in and out of the hospital more times than anyone could count, the vibrant, creative and joyful teen had a way of making the best out of her situation. Even when mucus buildup in her lungs made it nearly impossible for her to breathe, Madison did her best to stay positive.
“She loved anime, gaming online and editing videos,” said Jeff Ramsey, Madison’s father. “One Halloween she dressed up as Princess Zelda. I think that’s how she viewed herself.”
While Madison had a warrior side, she also had a very soft spot for dogs.
“When she was little, Madison had a book of all of the different breeds of dogs and she knew them all by heart,” Jeff said.
That may help explain the especially close bond she had with Ralph, one of the therapy dogs in the Sit...Stay...PLAY program at Cook Children’s.
“When Madison was in the hospital, she always looked forward to seeing Ralph,” remarked Paula Ramsey, Madison’s mother. “When no one else could get her out of bed, Ralph could. Sometimes, that was the only way to get her to smile.”
In 2015, Madison received some difficult news. Her lung function had dropped to 17 percent and oxygen was the only thing keeping the teen alive. Madison needed a double lung transplant.
“It took me a while to accept the fact that if I did not do this, I would surely die,” Madison posted on Instagram. “I would never leave a legacy, never get to live, and leave my mark on the world.”
So with that, she decided to add her name to the waiting list for a lung transplant. When she got the news that a set of lungs had become available, she was rushed to a hospital in South Texas. She received her new set of lungs in the summer of 2015.
Her parents say the lungs gave them one ‘magical’ year. Soon, she was able to breathe again. Though she was still in and out of the hospital, her health was improving. She was able to take senior pictures and even walk the stage at her high school graduation to pick up her diploma.
But soon, life would throw another curve ball.
Madison developed Post-transplant lymphoproliferative disorder (PTLD), a rare condition caused by her lung transplant. She had to undergo chemotherapy. Later, a mass developed in her chest. It punctured a lung and caused it to collapse. Madison could not catch a break. She had become so weak that she had to learn how to walk again.
“There were times when she was so sick, it took two people to sit her up,” said Paula. “Ralph was instrumental in getting her through those days. She even had a picture of him in her hospital room.”
Madison held out as long as she could.
At just 19 years old, she passed away.
“Madison found great comfort in the therapy dogs. We wanted to honor her memory by giving back to the program that meant so much to her,” explained Jeff.
The Ramsey’s raised $16,000 with their GoFundMe account. Then, they met with Kizzy Marco, coordinator of the Sit...Stay...PLAY program, and decided how the money would be used.
“We decided to purchase a camera so patients and families could have high quality photos taken with the therapy dogs,” said Paula.
They also decided to print photos of patients who were near the end of life on large canvases for their families to keep forever.
“We really wanted families like ours to have a happy memory to look back on,” said Paula.
The first such canvas went to the family of Danakah Abels.
Like Madison, 16-year-old Danakah loved Ralph. Her grandmother, Abby Jackson, said the teen enjoyed all of the therapy dogs at Cook Children’s, but for some reason, she had a special bond with the eldest dog.
“She just loved being with Ralph,” Abby said. “Kizzy would bring him to her room and they would just goof off. It would always brighten her day.”
Danakah was a normal, athletic teenager when she received a devastating diagnosis in March of 2017. The pain she had been feeling in her right knee wasn’t due to a volleyball injury, instead she had Ewing sarcoma. In just a few short months, tumors had consumed much of her body.
One day, Kizzy and Ralph went to visit Danakah in her hospital room. They brought the brand new camera the Ramsey’s had purchased for Sit..Stay..PLAY and took a few photos.
“The picture we have on the canvas is Danakah hugging Ralph,” Abby explained. “She was so happy. It’s a happy picture.”
The canvas was delivered to Danakah’s room at Cook Children’s the day she passed away in January 2018.
“We were able to have it displayed at her memorial,” Abby said with emotion in her voice. “The photo captures Danakah completely.”
It was around the same time that the Coonrod family was surprised by a package in the mail. Their daughter Bel had suddenly passed away weeks before after a long fight with cancer.
“We knew if something was going to take her, it was going to be something sneaky,” said Vicki, Bel’s mother. “She was a fighter. She fought to the very end.”
Bel loved Ralph. Just like Madison and Danakah, he could illuminate Bel’s day even when she didn’t want to talk to anyone.
“She would have taken him home if she could have. She loved him so much,” Vicki said laughing. “The two just had a weird connection. They could sit there for hours and be happy in each other’s presence.”
The canvas of Bel and Ralph now hangs in Bel’s little sister’s room. She was ecstatic to see it when it arrived and has insisted it stay with her.
“We're really thankful to the family who donated the camera and canvases for other families,” said Vicki. “It is a reminder that we were in the hospital, but it is a reminder that there were happy times in the hospital.”
For Madison’s family, stories like these help their daughter’s memory live on.
“We know the impact the therapy dogs have on families. We’ve seen the pain literally fade when Ralph or one of the other dogs was visiting our child,” said Jeff. “We know Madison is so happy to have her legacy live on this way.”
Kizzy Marco, Ralph’s handler, says she was blown away when she first met with the Ramsey’s. She never dreamed the Sit..Stay..PLAY program would touch people’s lives in such a deep and lasting way.
“I watched Madison and Ralph become best friends over the course of several years, through many highs and lows,” Kizzy said. “To have a small role in carrying on her legacy is a true honor, and to be able to give families something to honor their children at such a difficult time is so special. Our program is indebted to Madison and her family.”