Local parents start support group to help critically ill children, families

When their son Mitchell was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia at 3 months old, Meg McElwain and Frank Turner III had no idea what the next stage of their lives would bring.

Now, after almost seven months of treatment, the couple is starting to realize how lucky they are to have such loving friends and family, and want to aid others who might not have that vital help close at hand.

“While we were extremely shocked to find out (about the diagnosis), we quickly realized how fortunate we are to have a wonderful support system,” McElwain said. “So many families who are facing a life changing pediatric diagnosis do not have a support system.”

Having Presbyterian Hemby Children’s Hospital close to their SouthPark home allowed the family to stay together instead of splitting up for far-off treatment options like many families go through – a blessing the couple now wants to share.

“While (the diagnoses) was something that completely turned our world upside down, we still were able to keep our income and we had a great support system,” McElwain said. “We are so blessed by God that (we felt) it was our responsibility to give back.”

In honor of their son, who is now 10 months old and continuing through treatments, they created the Mitchell Bays Turner Pediatric Fund. The program will work with the Hemby Children’s Hospital to help families struggling with a pediatric cancer diagnoses.

The fund’s first fundraiser will be March 23 from 5 to 10 p.m. in the Old Mecklenburg Brewery, 215 Southside Drive in Charlotte, during the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The event will include a silent auction, prizes, raffles and more all focused on March Madness. Cost to attend is $75 and includes all food and drink. Proceeds will go to the fund, which still needs event sponsors in the amount of $250, $500 or $1,000.

Though Mitchell receives treatment in the oncology unit, his family decided the fund should help people dealing with all types of childhood illness, not just cancer. They will work alongside the hospital to determine which families could use the assistance of the Mitchell Bays Turner Pediatric Fund the most.

“After living in this world and being a part of the Presbyterian family, I have faith in all of the requests that will come to us,” McElwain said.

The hospital works with many funds created by family and friends of patients, but according to Meg Walters, with the Presbyterian Foundation, this is one of the few funds that can go to families dealing with a large range of illnesses or cancers.

Walters says all of the funds created make a large impact on families who do not have the support system like Mitchell’s family.

“The unfortunate reality is that life goes on while our patients and families are stuck in the hospital, so a lot of mortgages go on hold and a lot of families are forced to go from a two-income household to a one-income household,” she said.

When family and friends wanted to donate money and help with Mitchell’s treatment, the family knew there was a better way to spend the money. “We had groups of people who wanted to give, but we were financially stable enough where we didn’t need it,” McElwain said.

Money raised by the fund will help families in small ways such as paying for gas to travel back and forth from the hospital, copays for insurance and more.

Mitchell’s family was shocked by the support, but even more surprised when they saw how strong and resilient Mitchell has been through his treatment.

“He is the strongest human I have ever seen and he doesn’t even know it,” Mitchell’s mom said. “When he doesn’t feel good we just hold him and do whatever he needs, but when he feels good he plays and loves to watch his big brother.”

Mitchell’s leukemia is in remission, but due to the high recurrence rate of this type of cancer he has to finish the treatment all the way through.