Michael and I were married for 41 beautiful, adventurous years. In that time we created a loving family and a foundation that I could not be more proud of. It all started in room 238 of a hospital in Miami. Michael was a pediatrician, I was a nurse, and we were both natural caregivers who would do anything for our patients. We fell in love with each other and our matching dedication to helping sick children. We soon married in 1975 and had two children. However, there were multiple complications during the pregnancies and it wasn’t going to be possible to create the large family we wanted naturally, so we adopted our third child, Darlene, in 1986. Darlene wasn’t just any child. She was a tiny, cute little baby who happened to have Down syndrome, a severe mental handicap, and we later learned was nonverbal and legally deaf.
From that moment on we devoted ourselves to helping children with disabilities, founding a nonprofit called the Possible Dream Foundation and continuing to adopt or become legal guardians to 88 children with physical and neurological disabilities. Through the foundation, my volunteers and I help not only our children at the home but people who fly from all over the world. We work with parents, educating on early intervention, physical and speech therapy and patterning as well as job training and connections to community resources for adults with special needs.
We have lived a life of inspiring moments, witnessing miracles and the purity of love and family. There have also been moments of hardship, but we’ve always come out on top with the help of the kindness of others and those who support our mission. As you can imagine, the most heartbreaking time was the recent death of my husband on March 8, 2016. The rare cancer he had, mesothelioma, has an extremely poor prognosis, especially at Michael’s age, with most people living less than a year. But Michael was a fighter! He continued to work for many months following his diagnosis, and after 15 months of resting, loving, and so many treatments he passed away the day after his 73rd birthday. Of course this was by far saddest day for all of us, and absolutely the hardest thing is to manage my emotions and not let my children see me cry, but we prepared them over that year and three months, and though they miss Michael dearly today, they will always remember him as their dad, the superhero!
Since Michael passed we have received so many well wishes from community members and people around the world who have heard our story. Most impactful is hearing from thousands of his former patients, all stating how much of a difference Dr. Mike made in their lives and how special he was to them. Their words can’t ever bring him back, but I get to relive a small moment of his life every time I hear a story. It has truly been beautiful.
Another tragedy happened in the summer of 2011. Our family lived in a large house on a farm in North Carolina at the time with many farm animals and service and rescue dogs that the kids trained for therapy. Our home was struck by lightning and we lost everything, from clothes and toys to our vehicles and even the dogs. However, I’m a follower of God – He led me on the path through life and he has always taken care of me and my family. I always say, “divine intervention brought me here and divine providence will keep me going.” By the grace of God we were all at camp that week and not in the home.
Following the fire we were in transition, living in multiple trailers until we could find another home large enough for us all. One day I went in to get a haircut and the women there could tell I was upset and not my usual self, so they asked me to come to the back office to pray. I felt uncomfortable as the women prayed out loud, “Why God? Why did you let this happen to this family who have devoted their lives to you? We are giving you 24 hours to give them a home.” I had never demanded anything from God, I have only ever followed his command.
The following day a realtor showed us a home settled on six acres. It was large and beautiful and would never fit in our small budget, which I told the realtor, but she said to take a look anyway. Unknown to me, she told our story to the owner (this was his second home and he was selling because he never visited it) and he essentially donated the home to us, fully furnished! This man who I’d never met was so wonderful and gracious to my family in one of our biggest times of need, it’s hard to put into words. We prayed at 3:30 pm and signed the lease at 2:30 pm the following day. If that isn’t a miracle of God I don’t know what is.
I’m sure my life hasn’t seen the last of its hardships and tragedies, but that means I also haven’t seen the end of kindness from strangers and family alike. I have lived such a fulfilled life thanks to God, my children, Michael, and anyone who had heard our story and I feel so blessed to be able to pass on their kindness each and every day. – Camille