From Inspiration to Foundation
Photo by Malinda Hartong Photography
The inspiration behind the Dragonfly Foundation was deeply personal for Christine Neitzke. In 2010, she and her husband, Jim, faced a parent’s worst nightmare when they received a grim diagnosis for their youngest son, Matt.
“Six years ago, we went to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for pneumonia for our son and discovered that he had cancer,” says Neitzke, co-founder of the organization. “He was whisked away to the oncology floor. It opened our eyes to the reality of the sheer number of kids facing cancer here in Cincinnati, in our own backyard.”
Ultimately, Matt was diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. They almost lost him twice due to complications from an allergic reaction to the chemotherapy medication. During this time, the Neitzkes were fortunate to have the support of family, friends, church and community. Ria Davidson, Christine’s friend of more than 20 years, was one of the people who helped the family through this terribly dark time.
“We saw a lot of other families there lacked that kind of support – single-parent families, or families from out of town or parents who were both working full-time. We saw a need to reach out to other families who didn’t have support. We were fortunate,” Neitzke says. “We had people who dedicated themselves to making Matt and our family smile. We know that other kids and families are not as lucky.”
Davidson adds, “With so many young patients and families suffering, we couldn’t look away.”
Both Neitzke and Davidson, who cared for her mother-in-law until she passed away of brain and lung cancer, have faced the challenges of managing the care of a patient with cancer, both in the hospital and at home. Keenly aware of the need for additional support for patients and their families, the friends formed The Dragonfly Foundation in August 2010. The dragonfly is a symbol of strength and courage – the icon is a nod to the bravery of their patients, siblings/offspring, parents/caregivers. Since the foundation’s inception, Davidson and Neitzke have worked tirelessly to ease the burden on individuals facing cancer and bone marrow transplants.
“Our overall mission is to help our Dragonflies find their strength through support, distractions, multiple weekly events and opportunities,” Neitzke says. “Many of Children’s Hospital patients are from out of town, far away from the support of friends and family. We offer care packages, gifting and in- and outpatient programs to support Dragonflies from diagnosis until they are at least 5 years post-treatment. For example, one of the many ways Dragonfly supports Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center’s Cancer & Blood Diseases Institute is with its Technology Program. To date, they have provided more than 50 laptops, dozens of iPads, gaming systems and more.
“You could be the richest person in the world, but you can’t buy what we give to our families. You lose all sense of normal so what we’ve built is a very supportive environment around our families. Through our events and online groups, patients find encouragement and community with others facing similar challenges.”
Since 2010, the foundation has served thousands of patients and their families through their partnership with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. They regularly field calls from hospitals across the country requesting their services. The foundation has been forced to turn down countless opportunities to partner with more hospitals, as the non-profit has limited financial resources.
Some days are more difficult than others. With so many events and interactions, Davidson and Neitzke, along with Dragonfly staff, really get to know the families they support. Every victory, loss and/or heartbreak is felt on a deeply personal level. They forge ahead because they know families are counting on them.
“It’s hard to see sick kids and watch families struggle,” Davidson says. “A lot of people say, ‘I couldn’t do what you do. How do you do it?’ The answer we give is that no one is caring for these patients and families in the way the do, so how can we not?
“We feel like we can’t move fast enough. For our Dragonfly families and those we have yet to serve, time is too precious.”