JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Many families of children with cancer experience financial difficulties.
Former Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin realized this financial burden after one of his own players developed leukemia while on his team at Boston College back in 1996. That's how the Jay Fund was born.
The non-profit not only helps families tackle childhood cancer in the short term but also provides much needed long-term financial coaching. It was that help that gave one local family the strength to focus on their daughter's recovery.
Natalie Walker is a healthy four-year-old now, but three years ago she was a very sick little girl. "She literally went from perfectly healthy to stage three cancer in two weeks," said Chris Walker, Natalie's father.
In 2001, at age 1, Natalie was diagnosed with Burkitt Lymphoma. Deborah and Chris Walker put their lives on hold as Natalie spent more than 70 days in the hospital, had five rounds of chemotherapy and didn't eat for two weeks. "When she was diagnosed, Deborah and I just looked at each other and said no matter what happens we're not leaving her side.
So we were prepared to lose everything that we had been working for," said Chris Walker. Chris didn't work for 12 weeks and Deborah didn't have a paycheck for 15 weeks while Natalie was recovering.
As their little girl's life hung in the balance, so did their financial future.
That's when the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund stepped in to help pay their mortgage, power bills and groceries. Also, Jay Fund's Financial literacy classes, taught by CPA Kathy Devine, helped the Walker's come up with quick cash to pay for expenses.
"She's right there saying don't take from your 401k, you got other options. You can refinance your house which can save money, which us huge," said Deborah Walker.
"I believe that they are debt free now. That's an unbelievable accomplishment given the circumstances that they had found themselves in," said Devine.
The Jay Fund gave the Walker's the help they needed during the most difficult time of their lives. "We are there to help with bills now during the crisis but we're also there to help with long term planning. We help people get through the next 18 months or two years while their child is under treatment," said Keli Coughlin, Executive Director of the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund.
A deeply religious couple, the Walkers' are thankful their faith and the Jay Fund helped them through their daughter's crisis.
Deborah Walker offers this advice for any other families going through the same thing. "You do not know the road and you need to prepare because cancer is a battle and you're in for a fight and these people are here to help you and they will do just that. They will be right by your side."