When Matthew and Marissa Weippert of Hicksville lost their 12-year-old daughter, Sarah Grace, to leukemia in 2002, they were determined to ensure that her fight against the disease wasn’t for nothing.
“She had been sick for a very short nine months, and she underwent very intensive rounds of chemotherapy,” Matthew Weippert told the Press. “She had intensive chemo, a bone marrow transplant from her brother, some experimental medications, and really all we bought ourselves was couple of months. She passed away in November of 2002.”
Despite her tragic death from the disease, Weippert said that Sarah Grace never lost “that spark” that inspires those afflicted to keep fighting.
“You’re always gonna have that empty chair at the table and we want to make everything that went through mean something,” Weippert continued. “She never lost that spark. And we decided, about five months later, that we want to instill that same spark in these other kids.”
In March 2003, they founded the Sarah Grace Foundation for Children With Cancer, Inc. They’ve been going strong for over 20 years with their mission of making sure children — and families — keep going.
“We had a pretty good support system of family and friends,” Weippert said. “But there were still some things that were hard. So we help with prescription co-pays and help with meals while you’re in the hospitals, help with transportation expenses back and forth to treatments, and so forth.”
There are several programs they have for children, including The Bead Program to help inspire them.
“There are 100 or more small glass beads that are all different shapes and sizes,” Weippert said. “Each one represents a particular area of treatment. The child starts out with beads that spell out their name, their date of diagnosis, one bead that represents the Sarah Grace Foundation, and so on. They get a bead every day representing how that day went, and they build this chain. People tell us that they will remember this as part of their story of recovery. We’ve even been told that children who have rallied have worn their beads to school to show everyone what they went through.”
The foundation also purchases new books for the children, as they cannot read used or library books due to potential pathogen exposure. The foundation also sponsors Chemo Ducks for the children.
“It’s a small stuffed toy, but it’s made with particular ports to implant things in,” Weippert said. “The children care for the ducks, it’s theirs to keep and personalize, and the healthcare workers are able to use the ports on the duck to show the children what their treatment is.”
Additionally, throughout the holiday season, the Sarah Grace Foundation hosts toy drives to bring the holidays to the sick children.
“We deal with the families who are not well off, and we’ve heard from several social workers over the years that the gifts we’re able to put in their hands are the only gifts that the kids wind up with,” Weippert said. “So we work really hard and extra diligent to get everything that we can in the hands of the hospitals and of these families.”