JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A local family has turned their own heartbreak into hope for children with chronic illnesses thanks to a large donation to Nemours Children's Specialty Care
“Hugs from Hunter 3,” an organization started by the Hodges Family, donated $50,000 to the Nemours Mental Health Support Fund to help patients who wouldn't otherwise have access to mental health resources.
“They're more at-risk for depression, they're more at-risk for anxiety,” Amanda Lochrie, PhD, division chief of psychology at Nemours, said of children with chronic illnesses. “They have something that they can't get rid of on their own, they have something that they have to deal with for much longer than expected.”
The Hodges family has been involved with Nemours for more than two decades; all three of their sons were diagnosed with dyskeratosis, a rare genetic form of bone marrow failure.
“It's been a long, long journey,” Kevin Hodges said. “Very long journey.”
Kevin and Laurie Hodges' middle son, Michael, was the first to start showing symptoms. First, it was nosebleeds, then he passed out in preschool.
Michael's older brother, Matthew, and younger brother, Hunter, would all go on the be diagnosed.
Michael passed away at 19. Hunter passed away at 15. Matthew, the oldest, is now 26.
“You have a husband, a wife, three kids, a great job, you think you have everything in the world,” Laurie Hodges said. “And God delivers you a blow that just comes out of nowhere.”
Matthew Hodges told First Coast News he first started noticing symptoms when he was 6 or 7 years old.
“The fingernails, they started to almost seem like infected,” he said. “A little bit later on my skin started to change... I'm at the point now where I do have to go and be transfused once or twice a week."
Instead of shutting down, the Hodges family launched “Hugs from Hunter 3” to help other families in long-term health battles.
The Price Family knows the importance of mental health services all too well. Whit Price, 12, was born premature, leading to a series of health problems.
“I have learned to live with it but it's still very rough,” Whit said.
For the past five years, Whit has been fighting an incurable neurological disease that causes constant pain.
“It's a very sharp pain, it feels like somebody's stabbing you in the stomach,” Whit said.
“It's a horrible nightmare,” Whit's mom, Stephanie said of the helplessness of being unable to make her son feel better. “I don't know if I could do it the way he does.”
Stephanie Price said Lochrie has essentially become a part of the family because of how she's helped them all.
Being a seventh grader isn't easy, as is. Let alone, for someone battling through a painful, incurable disease.
“It's been one or two kids that have like teased me and bullied me,” Whit said. “And it's been tough having to deal with it, along with the pain.”
Thanks to Nemours, Whit doesn't have to do it alone. Thanks to “Hugs from Hunter 3,” neither will other children.
“Hugs from Hunter 3” also recently donated an additional $25,000 to the Nemours Patient and Family Emergency Fund.