Lana Whitehead believes in miracles. But sometimes, she says, you have to make them yourself.
In December 2005, her grandson, Blake, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. For three months he underwent treatments for the disease in Mesa at what is now known as Cardon Children's Medical Center.
For all but one week, the family lived at the hospital.
Whitehead sat with the young boy - just shy of 2 years old - and prayed for a miracle.
"I really believed we were going to get a miracle. You have to believe that."
On March 8, 2006, Blake passed away with his parents, Brandon and Kelle Whitehead, by his side.
"I decided we would make him that miracle," Lana Whitehead says.
The Whitehead family created the Blake's Miracle Foundation. Each year since Blake's death, the family - which owns and operates Mesa's SWIMkids USA - has put on the Swim-kid-athon to raise funds for the foundation.
Through the efforts, the community has given nearly $200,000 to Cardon Children's Medical Center to pay for alternative pain therapies for children, such as music therapy, and toys for children going through treatments. The organization even paid for a treatment room at the hospital and is now raising money for drowning prevention.
Through Blake's Miracle and the work of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance - as well as its Arizona coalition - doctors are beginning to write "prescriptions" for swim lessons for kids at 9 and 12 months, Whitehead says. It's raising more awareness of the need for swimming lessons, supervision around a pool, CPR training and pool fences.
"Kim Burgess (executive director of the national group) asked me to write a position paper," about drowning prevention, Lana Whitehead says. That led to the creation of Water Smart Babies (watersmartbabies.com) and work with the Broward County (Fla.) Drowning Prevention Task Force. That county, along with Maricopa County, has some of the highest drowning rates in the U.S.
Lana Whitehead wants to see more done nationally with drowning prevention and locally with pain management for ill children.
Each year, Lana Whitehead says, the annual swim-a-thon has gotten bigger, with more and more participants. It now includes a silent auction, business expos, "more bounce houses than you can count," and a raffle.
But with the economy, last year - the biggest yet - drew in the fewest dollars.
"People are not giving as much," Whitehead said, recognizing the troubles many residents are having. "Banner says that, too. They need that money for pain management. This helps to pay for music therapy. ... Think about how boring it is to sit in bed for a child. The music therapist comes in with bells, sings to them. The older kids get to make CDs and put on shows. Think how much that means to a parent when that child passes away."
Whitehead wants more kids to feel relief from their pain while they're being treated for terminal illnesses - relief that doesn't require them to be in a narcotics daze for days on end, she said.
For many kids, the alternative pain management is a "miracle" when they're too young to understand what's going on to them.
"That's what we wanted to give (Blake). What more can we do for him than make this miracle?"
The next event will be held March 3. Children do not have to be members of SWIMkids USA to participate. For information, see blakesmiracle.org.
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