We've all seen the headlines before: Organization helps sick kid go to World Series. Ride a helicopter. Or meet his or her favorite pop star. And while making dreams come true for critically ill children is indeed a noble cause, there is an organization named Chai Lifeline that goes beyond the norm by offering people what they never even knew they needed.
We don't have a list of 'things' we do for our families," explains Rabbi Crandall, Midwest Regional Director of Chai Lifeline. "Every situation and every person is unique. The goal of our children's health support network is to bring hope to children and families fighting pediatric illnesses through creative activities. There is no template, but if we had one I'd put just one requirement on that list. Love. I know it sound corny, but if you give from a place of love, everything else falls into place."
And that's exactly what happened about a year and a half ago in a little town outside of Jerusalem when Mr. Shmuel Galperin's five-year-old son Lazer was in a horrible fire. The doctors told Galperin that his son suffered 3rd degree burns over more than 80 percent of his little body. What they didn't tell him is—if his son survives—just how difficult a recovery will be. That he will require more than 17 skin graft surgeries in his first year alone. That he'll have his forearms and lower legs amputated. That more than five seconds of sun exposure will cause irreparable damage. They also failed to mention how excruciatingly painful even the slightest movement will cause Lazer—from blinking an eye to feeling the most gentle gust of wind.
The doctors do tell Lazer's dad that his best—and only—chance for survival is 6,211 miles away from Jerusalem. And that is why, just 11 horrifying, mind-numbing days after the fire, Galperin said goodbye to his wife, four young children, and country for the very first time in his life, and headed halfway around the world with his coma-induced, critically injured and utterly unrecognizable little boy.
Accompanied by a team of doctors, father and son took a 12-hour plane ride to Shriners Burns Hospital for Children in Cincinnati, Ohio. They didn't know a single American, understand a word of English, or contemplate how long they'd be away from home. Fortunately, Mr. Galperin was so focused on "getting there" that he failed to realize just how lost he'd be once he did.
And that's exactly what happened once the plane hit the hard cement and emergency medics stormed the plane. Wheeling Lazer into a waiting ambulance, his father didn't even have a chance to whisper goodbye.
Which is when Galperin found himself feeling quite alone. Surrounded by throngs of travelers who also just exited the plane, Galperin was suddenly overcome with a huge rush of adrenaline that almost made him pass out. But not before he noticed a few droplets of blood coming from his left hand that was still clutching the piece of paper the doctors handed him only 24 hours ago—the one with Shriners Burns hospital's address.
It's precisely this moment when Galperin noticed a young man desperately scanning the group of passengers who accompanied him off the plane. But what he had no way of knowing—and what he could never even begin to imagine—was that the person this man was searching for was him.
"When we heard Lazer was accepted to Shriner's Hospital," explained Crandall, "we knew we had to be there for his dad, too. So we sent someone to meet him at the airport. Even in the best of circumstances, traveling overseas is overwhelming. We knew that giving Mr. Galperin a working cell phone would make him feel less isolated."
But that's far from all Chai Lifeline provided: under Crandall's direction, Chai Lifeline helped Galperin locate suitable housing near the hospital, provided a daily food stipend, visited Lazer at the hospital, arranged travel plans for the rest of Galperin's family, and served as liaison between the myriad of doctors, surgeons and therapists.
"Understand that I didn't know a single soul in America," Galperin begins. "I was trying to understand what the doctors were doing to my son, yet I still had to deal with all the details that come with living in a foreign country. I wouldn't have survived without Rabbi Crandall and Chai Lifeline. They took care of me, of all of us. They treated us like family."
"But the best thing, the highlight of our stay in America was absolutely sending Lazer to Chai Lifeline's Camp Simcha Special," shared Galperin. "That one week at camp made my Lazer feel like a normal kid again. Having time away from this hospital setting gave him the strength to keep fighting."
Supported by Chai Lifeline, Camp Simcha Special provides a medically supervised, overnight camping experience for kids with debilitating, chronic conditions. "Preparing for Lazer's arrival was far from simple," admitted Crandall. "We never had to deal with a severe burn case like Lazer's. But we were determined to make it work. Within a few days, we hired a burn specialist to change his dressings and a physical therapist who worked with burn patients."
"Far and away, the most important adjustments we made were altering virtually every activity to meet Lazer's specific needs. For example, to make sure Lazer avoided any sun exposure, we made our daytime activities occur after sundown and our nighttime activities available during the day."
Just one week ago, Lazer completed his 18 months of treatment at Shriner's Hospital. Now back in Jerusalem, he still has many years of surgeries, therapies and painful treatments ahead of him. And while he admits that being home is the best gift he could ask for, Lazer has one final request: to return to Camp Simcha Special in New York from August 2nd to August 13th.
For more information on Chai Lifeline, Camp Simcha Special, or to help send Lazer back to Camp Simcha Special, please call Rabbi Shlomo Crandall at (773) 814-4446 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.