On what seemed to be a normal Friday in February 2010, the Neitzke family took their 10-year-old son Matt to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center for a routine CT scan to follow-up on his recent bout with pneumonia. No big deal. It was just one of the many things on mother Christine’s to-do list that day.
But there was nothing normal about the results of that scan. Seven hours after taking Matt to the hospital, Christine drove home alone with every parent’s worst nightmare unfolding before her. Matt had cancer: Stage three Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Christine’s husband, Jim, stayed with Matt at the hospital that night while Christine took care of the couple’s older son, 12-year-old Sam. The next morning, Matt underwent biopsy surgery, which revealed a mass the size of a baseball next to Matt’s right lung as well as smaller masses on his spleen.
Brandon Davidson, Community Relations and Events
The next seven months took the Neitzke family on a journey of chemotherapy, radiation, and countless overnight stays at the hospital. It was a journey that would change their lives – and, soon, hundreds of other families’ lives – forever.
That’s because the experience inspired Christine to pair up with her philanthropist friend, Ria Davidson, to form The Dragonfly Foundation. When they saw families at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital who were going through difficult situations and could use more support, they were moved to make a difference, says Brandon Davidson, Community Relations and Events Manager for The Dragonfly Foundation. “They worked very closely with Cincinnati Children’s to identify key quality-of-life needs, and designed 12 programs to help fulfill those needs,” Davidson explains.
The Neitzke family was so appreciative of the support they received from friends and family, including Ria, that they knew this support was a critical part of the treatment and healing process. “Not every family was as fortunate as the Neitzkes, so the idea behind The Dragonfly Foundation was to provide added support that other families so desperately needed,” says Davidson.
In the three and a half years since the organization was launched, it’s grown exponentially, Davidson says. “We’ve gone from working out of a basement to having a 6,000-square-foot clubhouse for the kids, thousands of followers on social media, billboards across town and community support that is nothing short of incredible,” he adds.
The Dragonfly Foundation also has a volunteer base that is key in supporting the nonprofit’s mission. The biggest turning point for The Dragonfly Foundation was when Marty Brennaman shaved his head after a Reds game. According to Davidson, Brennaman is now an advocate and spokesperson for the foundation.
There are 12 programs offered through The Dragonfly Foundation including the “I’m Still Me” hair loss care package and awareness programs, Beads of Courage, Parent-to-Parent tip book and much more. Newly diagnosed families also receive a CARE Package that includes toiletries, office supplies and a meal card so the parents or caregivers don’t have to leave their child’s bedside. On average, 30 bags valued at $140 each, are distributed every month to families entering the hospital or have a diagnosis in the emergency department.
In addition to the CARE Package, The Dragonfly Foundation provides as many fun and memorable events for our Dragonflies and their families they can. These include a ticket to a Red’s game, watching the Cyclones and other events from the foundation’s suite at US Bank Arena, family fun events at “The Landing,” and over 60 meet-and-greets with celebrities. “We’re all about letting kids be kids,” Davidson explains.
What makes The Dragonfly Foundation unique is that they are not a research-based organization. They provide CARE (Caring, Community and Awareness that Results in better Emotional Health) while waiting for a cure for these diseases. The foundation is also unique in the scope of individuals that it supports.
“We embrace patients from birth to age 30 from their date of diagnosis until they are 5 years free of their disease,” Davidson explains. “We also include their siblings and caregivers. We understand that even though treatment may end, the post-traumatic stress of treatment, the challenges of side effects from treatment and the anxiety of reoccurrence continue to challenge families for years to come.”
The entire family is included in The Dragonfly Foundation’s special events and activities that help them feel “normal” for as long as possible. “There are always opportunities connecting patients and families with others in similar circumstances,” Davidson says. “And as of April 1, The Dragonfly Foundation is serving more than 450 families including more than 1,800 patients and their families from 43 states and four countries all currently being treated at Cincinnati Children’s Hospitals Cancer and Blood Disease Institute.”
The team at The Dragonfly Foundation consists of Davidson along with Co-Founders Christine Neitzke and Ria Davidson, Patient and Family Relations Manager Zak Geier, Operations and Landing Manager Carrie Ellis, Volunteer Manager Colleen Berlinger and Administrative Support Kelly Shewman.
The team has a lot planned for 2014, so mark your calendar for several exciting Dragonfly Foundation events on the horizon. “In addition to our annual Golf Classic on May 19, we’re also having the first ever ‘Mascot Madness Mini-Golf Fundraiser’ at the World of Golf in Florence, Kentucky,” says Davidson. “We have over 15 confirmed mascots from across the Tri-State that will be participating in the family-friendly event May 17.”
This year, The Dragonfly Foundation was also chosen to be one of three non-profits selected to participate in “Kings Island Kicks Cancer.” From July 25 through August 24 Kings Island will support the organization through fundraising and awareness campaigns throughout the park.
“We also have something big planned in October,” explains Davidson. “But I’ll keep that a surprise for now.”
To learn more about The Dragonfly Foundation, visit www.dragonfly.org. Davidson adds that you can also make a donation, view Amazon’s “wish lists” of needed items and read about upcoming fundraising and informational event opportunities on their website.