RALEIGH, NC — A North Carolina nonprofit helps children in need of special medical treatment get to the right doctors, even if they’re hundreds of miles away.
What do you want to know
- Children’s Flight of Hope is a North Carolina nonprofit
- The organization provides air transport for children in need of special medical treatment
- Hops for Hope will take place on September 10 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. in Raleigh
- Amber Lunn is a childhood cancer survivor
For Amber Lunn, her big sister Ashley and their best friend Chloe, at least for a brief second, jumping on the trampoline can feel like flying. The middle schoolers have spent almost every day playing together after school for the past three years.
“The best part is just hearing their laughter while I’m inside, and they’re living their childhood like me,” said Amanda Lunn, Amber and Ashely’s mother.
Nine years ago, in 2013, the Lunns didn’t know if they would see the day when their daughters played together.
“In 2013 there was a day when everything was fine, and then in an instant I wasn’t even sure she was going to survive,” Lunn said.
At 23 months, Amber was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of childhood eye cancer known as bilateral retionblastoma. Only about 200 to 300 children are diagnosed with retinoblastoma each year in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society.
“Since she was about 2 weeks old I saw a white glow in her eyes, and I didn’t know that was a warning sign, that’s not normal in humans, I have talked about during our well visits, but it was never present at the time because it came and went,” Lunn said.
After a visit to a pediatric optomologist, Lunn said they decided to find a doctor who specialized in treating this specific type of eye cancer.
“We could go to Duke or we could go to another hospital further away. We started here locally because it was more convenient, but they wanted to do six cycles of systemic chemotherapy, only the first two would kill or actively shrink the tumor . , and after that it would keep them stable,” Lunn said.
Through community efforts, Lunn found the best doctor for the job at Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York. The catch: it was almost 500 miles each way to get there.
“Initially, we were doing chemotherapy and various tests every four weeks,” Lunn said. “It was tough, I had a 2-year-old and a 1-year-old. We both had jobs, trying to manage finances and going back and forth to the doctor.”
That’s when Children’s Flight of Hope stepped in. The non-profit organization is based in North Carolina and provides air travel to children in need of specialized medical care across the country. They transport patients and their caregivers to treatments throughout their medical journey.
The Lunns have enjoyed approximately 40 flights through Children’s Flight of Hope.
“They really help families like mine who have children with medical needs, who need help getting to the experts so their child can have the best life possible,” Lunn said.
Although Amber doesn’t have her right eye, there’s nothing she can’t do.
“Sometimes it can be a little difficult when I’m playing a game on my iPad, but I can always see because it’s right in front of me,” said Amber Lunn, now 10.
2015 was the last time a living tumor was in Amber’s eye. Since then, she goes once a year to controls in New York.
“Next time we go, we’re starting the next phase, the survivorship clinic to monitor for any secondary cancers,” Lunn said.
Although Amber is free of eye cancer, she is at risk for other cancers.
“What I didn’t know was that one of the long-term side effects of the drugs is leukaemia. It’s something she’ll have to be aware of for the rest of her life. It’s hereditary, so if she is able to have children, they have a 50% chance of having her,” Lunn said.
But the Lunns remain hopeful.
“I can be sure she’s in good hands. My daughter might not be here today if Children’s Flight of Hope didn’t come to our rescue and take something off our plate. “said Lunn.
So far this year, Children’s Flight of Hope has sponsored over 800 flights for children and their caregivers.
The organization is made possible through donations and partnerships with businesses and community groups. Their annual fundraiser, Hops For Hope, will be held Saturday, September 10 from 2-6 p.m. at North Hills Midtown Park in Raleigh.
Tickets are available and all proceeds will go to Children’s Flight of Hope.
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