Fred's Fund for CHaD
On September 12, 2005, nine-year old Fred Swymer was airlifted from Concord to the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock with "allergy-like symptoms," according to his father Jay Swymer. He was admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) with a diagnosis of lymphoblastic lymphoma. Dr. James Filiano, who cared for Fred, describes his condition as "a very severe cancer without significant prior warning. Because it was in his chest, it was very difficult to provide proper oxygen and blood flow to his heart and lungs." Fred died two days later.
Filiano speculates that Fred, a good athlete, who was still playing baseball just days before his death, may have been experiencing symptoms, such as shortness of breath, coughing, chest pain, difficulty sleeping... as the cancer began crowding out his lungs, but notes, "If you've got a tough kid, he's going to deal with his symptoms, so he's not going to complain until it's at its extreme."
Swymer was deeply moved that Filiano stayed with Fred for all but about two hours of his short stay in the PICU. And, while Fred's health care providers couldn't save his son, Swymer wanted to find a way to thank the team who provided such "compassionate care" for Fred and his family, and to make the lives of the kids, their families, and those who care for them, a little easier. "It's a tough gig," Swymer says of working in the PICU. Thus was born, "Fred's Fund," which has raised $128,000 for CHaD since its inception in 2006.
Some of the money has gone into to redecorating the PICU to make it more inviting and child-friendly. Michele Vander Heyden, Medical Director of the PICU, describes the impact of the changes. "We now have an environment that is comfortable and welcoming, unlike the usual sterile environment of a hospital. The rooms have an extra bed so parents can sleep with their child, as well as individual refrigerators, and we have several iPads, that provide a much needed diversion. Jay's thoughtfulness has also extended to cover some other stressors of being away from home, including extra gas cards and food vouchers."
She continues, "Being a patient or family member in the PICU can be very stressful and frightening. Jay's philanthropy has transformed nearly every aspect of the patient and family experience in the PICU."
A three-day, silent auction is Swymer's primary event. Held annually in conjunction with the Hilliker Little League Tournament in Concord, NH, Swymer gathers autographed pictures of sports legends, such as Dale Ernhardt, Micky Mantle, Jim Brown, and Oscar Robinson. In 2011, he got a jersey and stick autographed by the entire Boston Bruins team. Fred played Little League Baseball, so there is a sports-theme to the auction, but the items are by no means limited to sports. Attendees can also bid on gift certificates to many restaurants and shops, weekend getaways, Duck Boat tours, museum and theatre passes, and even "two shaves and two haircuts" at the New England School of Barbering.
Swymer stresses the low overhead. "No one at Fred's Fund gets paid, and the vast majority (other than postage and tent rental) of the money donated goes directly to CHaD." And Swymer works closely with the hospital to ensure that "the money goes where it really makes sense."
Swymer's newest addition to his fundraising efforts is an ice-golf tournament and chili cook-off on Lake Pawtuckaway in Nottingham, NH, where Fred’s grandmother lives. There is a nine-hole course, for those who want to play a round, or visitors can simply come out and sample the chili (homemade and restaurant varieties available). Not once, in twenty years, has the event been canceled for weather, notes Swymer (who does recommend ice cleats for golfers.)
Filiano regrets that he didn't get to know Fred well because he was on a ventilator very soon after arriving, but has a sense of what a resolute and tenacious kid he must have been as the offspring of such committed, caring, and determined parents. Of Fred's father's efforts, Filiano says, "He's helping to transform the PICU environment, to give it a flavor of home for kids who need that most of all, at a time of the worst physical ailments of their lives."
Vander Heyden agrees. "Jay's tireless work is felt by anyone who enters the PICU, and the staff are greatly appreciative of all the wonderful changes to our unit."