Are you planning to run in the 5th Annual Forrest Spence 5K? The fundraiser, which benefits the Forrest Spence Fund at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, takes place August 25th, at Overton Park. Last year, more than 1,000 people participated, raising $38,000 for the fund according to media relations chair Bridgette Flack. If you need more incentive to take up the challenge, read on to learn the story of Brittany and David Spence, the parents who created the Forrest Spence Fund in loving memory of their son, Forrest.
“What do you do when a doctor tells you your child may not survive?”
That is the question Brittany and David Spence have tried to answer since receiving their own terrible news back in 2007 — that their newborn son, Forrest, who experienced complications just hours after birth, would not survive.
Forrest spent 55 days fighting for his life in Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital’s intensive care unit. During that time, Brittany and David experienced a great deal of compassion and care from hospital staff. “Sometimes I felt like we were speaking two different languages,” says Brittany. “David was in medical school, so he understood all of the medical language. I needed more down-to-earth language, and the staff were so good at meeting all of our needs.”
On their last weekend with Forrest, the Spences received word that he was declining fast, and they knew, because they'd been showered with such love, that they wanted to start something in their son’s name. “We didn’t even know what that would mean at the time,” said Brittany. “We honestly thought it would be a one-time gift to Le Bonheur. But people were just giving.”
Instead, Brittany and David started the Forrest Spence Fund. Through the fund, they’ve initiated a number of programs to help families meet non-medical needs when caring for their chronically or critically ill children at Le Bonheur.
The Spences are particularly proud of the Parent Mentor Program. “We train moms and dads to walk with families to let them know that, ‘You will survive this, even if the outcome is not what you wanted,’” she says. “We feel strongly that we need to walk with these families and give them support wherever we can.”
In addition to mentoring, the Forrest Spence Fund assists families with counseling at the Christian Psychological Center, paying 100 percent of the cost. Says Brittany, “We never turn down a family who wants to get counseling.”
The fund also covers small expenses that make a family's stay easier. When parents checks into the hospital, the Forrest Spence Fund provides a basket with toiletries, meal vouchers, even rolls of quarters so parents can use hospital vending machines without having to hunt for change. On the second Thursday each month, fund volunteers also serve a meal to those families who are staying at the FedEx Family House.
“It is important that parents are able to spend time with their sick children,” says Spence.
In that spirit, the Forrest Spence Fund designed and implemented the Forrest Spence Sibling Playroom at LaBonheur, which opened last August. The sibling playroom was paid for entirely by the fund, which continues to purchase supplies as needed. The room is staffed with one full-timer as well as volunteers who help with child care.
Thomas Hobson, the director of child life services at Le Bonheur, says the Sibling Playroom is a wonderful resource for parents of multiple children. “Parents of patients need to learn how to care for their sick child. Many parents need to learn CPR and other life-sustaining procedures,” he says.
“Sometimes, siblings are left behind when there is an ill child in the family, especially since young children really can’t come back to the ICU or recovery area. The Sibling Playroom is a place siblings can call their own. It really makes a difference, especially for families who don’t live close by.”
Today, Brittany and David Spence are the proud parents of boys Austin and Miller, and are expecting a little girl on New Year’s Eve. David recently completed his fellowship in pediatric orthopedic surgery in Boston, so the family will be returning to Memphis where David will join Campbell Clinic. The couple says they’ll continue their involvement with Le Bonheur.
“We want to inspire people to take what has been so hard in their lives and turn it around to help someone else,” says Brittany.
5th Annual Forrest Spence 5K • Saturday, August 25, at Overton Park
Race Times: 5K begins at 8 a.m., the 100-yard dash at 9 a.m., and a 1-mile Fun Run at 9:05 a.m.
For registration information, go to forrestspencefund.org.