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Helping Hand Emerges From Tragedy

It has been almost 11 years since Sarah Grace Weippert of Hicksville passed away from leukemia, at 12 years old.  Sarah was attending Hicksville Middle School when she began feeling ill in February of 2002. Just nine short months later her young and precious life tragically came to an end. Thanks to the extraordinary effort made by her parents, Matthew and Marissa Weippert, her memory has been able to help the lives of hundreds of other children who have been affected by childhood cancer.

According to the American Cancer Institute, childhood cancer has just recently become the leading cause of death for children in the United States. Matthew Weippert knows the pain of losing a child to cancer all too well. Weippert said “a couple of months after Sarah passed we started thinking about doing something in honor of her memory because everything that she went through had to count for something. Even though Sarah was sick, she never really thought of herself as sick. She was a happy child. We wanted to instill her spirit into other children.”

On March 31, 2003, which would have been Sarah’s 13th birthday, the Weippert’s established The Sarah Grace Foundation. The foundation is made up of a small executive board including members of the Weippert family, their close friends, and volunteers.

“Because we are a small organization, one of our most difficult challenges has been fundraising” explained the Weipperts. “Even after we raise the funds, we need to budget ourselves and spend the money wisely.”

The foundation has provided families with such necessities as transportation, funeral services, meal allowances, and even laptops.

The lifetime dose of cranial radiation that Sarah received left her immune system so compromised that she needed to be put into isolation. With a webcame equipped laptop, she was still able to communicate with people like her younger brother James, who doctors advised might have too many germs because he was a child, from her hopsital bed.

“It’s really great, because you can move the laptop around the house and the child can see what is going on in every room, it really brings them closer to home,” Marissa said.

The foundation provides uniquely notable services as well. The bead program was inspired by Sarah’s love of arts and crafts. Matthew said “we put together a bead program where every bead means something different. If the child chooses to participate they get an elastic cord, alphabet beads that spell out their name, and a foundation bead. Every time they come in for treatment like a blood transfusion or chemotherapy, they get a blood transfusion bead or a chemotherapy bead.” Marissa said “the beads really sparkle under the fluorescent hospital lights; they look beautiful, and the kids really love them.” Matthew added “it’s a great way for the kids to keep their minds off their condition, and let them be kids again.”

Another program offered is an idea the foundation calls the escape hatch. Matthew explained the program and said “we designed a little box that looks like the suitcases you see from the old time movies. People used to put stickers on them to show off all the places they traveled.” The escape hatch comes with an assortment of toys and games to keep the children occupied.

The Sarah Grace Foundation is also a proud sponsor of the Chemo Duck Program. Children who participate receive a plush duck that wears a hospital gown and a bandana. There is also a matching bandana for the child. Doctors use the duck to show children how different procedures will be performed on them.

Other programs include R.E.A.C.T where people can bring old electronics and batteries to the foundation so the carcinogenic material they contain can be properly disposed of and not enter the water supply. They are also working on legislation with Congressman Steve Israel to allow parents time off for bereavement after the loss of a child.

Nancy Barbach is a social worker at Cohen’s Children Medical Center of New York. She worked with Sarah after she was diagnosed. Barbach reaches out to the foundation to help children in need. “They want to make the experience for the child and their family better; they are amazing people” she shared.

The passion and devotion of the Weippert’s and everyone involved in the foundation is truly remarkable. Matthew admirably explained “our foundation never turned anyone away; we do whatever we can for anyone that asks.” The Sarah Grace Foundation is a truly worthy cause. To help children with cancer please call 516-433-9745 or visit www.thesarahgracefoundation.org.