The Emilio Nares Foundation, located in San Diego, CA, helps children and their families navigate through a cancer diagnosis with valuable services, from a cost-saving transportation program to modified shirts with easy access to chemotherapy ports.

For one family in San Diego, CA, getting their 4-year-old son to radiation treatment for a brain tumor meant waking up at 4 am and catching a bus with 5 different transfers. Getting back home at the end of the day was no easier, with another 4.5 hours on public transportation, but this time with a child who was sick and in pain.

When the Emilio Nares Foundation Ride With Emilio program got involved, they were able to cut that trip down to less than 1 hour. Seven years later, that family is still using the program to get their child to treatment.

Honoring Their Son by Helping Other Children
The Emilio Nares Foundation was created to help children and their families navigate through a child’s journey with cancer. The Ride With Emilio program aims to provide low-income families with transportation to and from treatment for cancer. Since its beginning in 2003, the Emilio Nares Foundation has provided more than 20,000 rides and serves nearly 250 patients a year in San Diego, Imperial County, and Orange County, California.

“A child cannot fight their fight until they get to the hospital,” says Richard Nares, Founder of the Emilio Nares Foundation. Transportation “is so crucial to the patient’s survival, and many of these patients struggle with that.”

Richard first noticed how many families were struggling when his son Emilio was at the Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego undergoing treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (or ALL).

“While we were taking that journey, we witnessed so many families that didn’t have the support network that we had, and it was very tough to see,” Richard says. “So many of these families lack support in general, whether it’s financial or emotional.”

Emilio was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia shortly before his third birthday and passed away shortly before his sixth birthday; he was the driving force behind his parents’ desire to create the Emilio Nares Foundation.

“At the end we were able to hold him in our arms. He took his last breath in our arms, and that was how he left,” Richard says. “It’s hard to understand when people talk about it, unless you’ve really been there. Your whole life is turned upside down with this diagnosis. And life as you know it will never be the same.”

Richard and his wife felt a moral obligation to assist struggling families because they knew what it was like to be in their shoes.

“Ride With Emilio”
The Emilio Nares Foundation works in conjunction with the Rady Children’s Hospital. When a patient comes in who does not have reliable transportation to his or her cancer treatments, the hospital’s social services staff passes along their information to the foundation, which then sets up rides for the family.

With a resource center and a bilingual staff located right at the hospital, the Emilio Nares Foundation has created a sense of community for the families they serve. Staff will often assist families with applications for other resources, as well as provide a safe place for parents to vent about the daily struggles that so many of them face.

“As a parent, you do everything you can to help your child, but you feel very isolated, because there is nothing you can do. You can’t take away their cancer, you can’t take away their pain, and you can’t make them recover any faster,” Richard says. “A lot of these families just want to talk. They can find our staff who has the time to listen. That’s part of surviving this journey, that they can vent a little.”

In addition to providing transportation, the foundation also runs several programs with the hope of making a child’s time at the hospital a little easier. Richard recalls the massive amount of time his family spent at the hospital while caring for Emilio, and they used their experience and the experience of other staff members to determine what services families in similar situations could use.

Although the foundation primarily serves the San Diego area, children all across the country struggle to find reliable transportation to their cancer treatment; that is why Richard hopes to see the foundation expand over the next 5 years.

“It’s the same need. It may be a different city, but when you have low income families that have to go a distance, it’s going to be difficult,” he says.

Richard encourages hospital representatives to reach out to him to discuss the possibilities of integrating the Ride With Emilio program into their hospital services.

He never expected the foundation to grow as big as it did, but his motivation to expand more comes from “the daily pain that you see on other families faces. You just can’t walk away from that,” Richard says.

But for all the pain, there has also been quite a bit of happiness too. Some families have been using the Ride With Emilio program for more than a decade and Richard has been able to see them through years of treatment and join in on their successes.

“When you help a family that has really needed it, that’s when it’s all worth it,” he says.

The “Loving Tabs” Program
Another service is the Loving Tabs program, which supplies modified shirts for patients that make it easier for doctors and nurses to access chemotherapy ports. A foundation staff member, and a good friend of the Nares family, found that her 2-year-old son did not like taking his shirt off when undergoing chemo treatment. During one hospital visit he asked his mother to cut his shirt along the shoulder and sleeve so the nurses could access his port without requiring him to take it off. However, when he got home, he was upset that his favorite shirt was ruined, so his mother mended the area with some Velcro. The design was effective and eventually was modified to include snaps rather than Velcro.

These shirts offer patients dignity when receiving their treatment—which is especially important when dealing with teens who may be self-conscious—and they also allow treatment to be administered more quickly by eliminating the need to take a shirt off an unwilling toddler or child.

Another program includes snack bags full of hospital-approved nutritional foods, which are provided to patients who have had their treatment time delayed, or those just waking up after treatment. Because parents often cannot leave their child unattended, the only other option for food is vending machines. The Emilio Nares Foundation currently provides 25 to 30 snack bags a week for families.

Harvest for Hope Fundraiser

Every year, the Emilio Nares Foundation holds the Harvest for Hope fundraiser—a food and wine event with the best chefs throughout the country. This year’s event will be held on Sunday, October 1, 2017.

All funds raised from this Emilio Nares Foundation fundraiser go to the various programs and services, with a majority of the funds going to the upkeep of the 7 vans the foundation is currently using to transport patients and their families. “We’re constantly looking for donations to replace or repair vans,” Richard says. by Kelsey Moroz – Read article online.