When asked what’s most important to her about her local children’s hospital, Donna Rush, a stay-at-home mom, says without hesitation, “The fact that my son, Blake, can go to the spina bifida clinic at Children’s Hospital of Richmond and see all the specialists he needs in one appointment.” For Rush, learning recently that pediatric specialty care physician shortages are a nationwide problem for children’s hospitals was disheartening.
“I never knew this was an issue because we happen to live so close to the services he needs,” said Rush. “I can’t imagine what this means for families who aren’t so lucky.”
Blake, who had corrective surgery at 16 months, has been receiving physical therapy services ever since. In June, Rush traveled with her family and government relations staff from the hospital to Washington as part of N.A.C.H.’s Family Advocacy Day to advocate on behalf of their children’s hospital. Not only did the family visit with several members of their delegation, they also served as role models for all the other families by participating in a “How to Tell Your Story” role-playing session at the family briefing. Among the issues presented to members of Congress, Rush, her husband Kevin and 14-year-old Blake shared their medical story.
“Before going to Family Advocacy Day, I didn’t feel like I had much of a voice. I thought it was just my job to deal with Blake’s medical condition as best I could,” said Rush. “When I went to Washington, all that changed and I just wanted to scream and tell our story over and over again.”
As part of N.A.C.H’s mission to ensure children’s hospitals have the tools and resources to develop community advocates, Melissa James, associate director of policy analysis at N.A.C.H., and I journeyed south to the Children’s Hospital of Richmond to participate in the 7th Annual Spirit of Advocacy event. The event, sponsored by the hospital’s advocacy committee, featured the presentation of “Spirit of Advocacy Leadership Awards” in which the Rushes received the family award.
Receiving the "Spirit of Advocacy" award obviously meant a lot to Rush who with tears in her eyes shared how blessed they are to receive comprehensive care through the spina bifida clinic at Children’s.
“The clinic allows Blake to be seen by several pediatric specialists on the same day, reducing travel to and from numerous appointments and time missed from school,” said Rush. “We must ensure that all children have access to the specialists they need, despite where they live.”
It’s advocates like Rush who help shape child health policies in this country. After accepting the award, Rush vowed to continue her advocacy efforts by speaking up on behalf of Children’s Hospital of Richmond for years to come. Doing so has given her a sense of accomplishment and empowerment —she now has a voice in children’s health care. Blake, who is also a talented wheelchair basketball player, would say he is most thankful for the good food in the hospital cafeteria.