Christine Neitzke will never forget the words that changed her family’s life: “Matt has cancer.”
What had started as trouble breathing led to the discovery that their young son, Matt, had a mass outside of his lungs and would need immediate treatment. Their family suddenly found themselves overwhelmed by a devastating diagnosis and a sudden hospital stay.
But in the hospital, Neitzke couldn’t help but notice all the others battling cancer: babies, children and young adults.
“We met many families that were going through similar journeys,” Neitzke says. “We wanted to do something to help these families.”
Neitzke and her family were inspired to start The Dragonfly Foundation in 2010 to support families as their children fought cancer.
Why Dragonfly? Dragonflies symbolize transformation. Everything families go through in their cancer journey is transformational, and Dragonfly is here to help.
And that means supporting the entire family, not just the patient. “Siblings are so much a part of what we do,” says Neitzke. Matt’s brother, Sam, certainly had his life impacted by his brother’s cancer diagnosis.
Zak Geier, director of Patient and Family Relations, agrees. “Anything we do includes the whole family. The family is going through something, too.”
The criteria for being a Dragonfly family is simple. Once you have had a cancer diagnosis, you’re a Dragonfly, no matter where you are on that journey. “Once a Dragonfly, always a Dragonfly,” Geier says. “We’re there to support you the rest of your life.”
One of those supporters is Marty Brenneman, legendary Cincinnati Reds broadcaster. In 2012, he shaved his head and showed off his Dragonfly shirt underneath his Reds jersey. He remains a supporter and friend of Dragonfly today.
Matt is healthy today, thanks in part to the heroes at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Dragonfly partners with CCHMC, allowing them to focus on their life-saving treatments while Dragonfly supports families’ needs.
The Dragonfly Foundation currently has nine programs that help children and their families across the Cincinnati region.
Big Blue Care Bags
For many families, their first contact with Dragonfly is when they receive a care bag at the hospital. This blue bag is full of things a newly diagnosed family might need, from snacks and basic necessities to tips on dealing with all that comes with a hospital stay. It’s a way to let families know they have a support group to help them.
Adopt A Family
Dragonfly does everything they can to make special days special, even in the hospital. Whether it’s the holidays, the start of the school year, or birthdays, Dragonfly provides families with gifts, gift cards and support so the patient and family can focus on getting well.
Beads of Courage
This national program helps give patients a visible way to represent their treatment journey. Kids get beads for important milestones, such as radiation treatments, blood transfusions and treatment checkpoints. The beads, though small, have been proven to help cancer patients cope and strengthen children’s resilience.
Dragonfly works closely with staff at partner hospitals to bring joy to patients and their families. They provide entertainment, toys, craft supplies, gifts and food. A long hospital stay can be challenging, but Dragonfly does all it can to make it better.
I Am Still Me
Losing one’s hair can be devastating for a child. Dragonfly started “I Am Still Me,” a program designed to help patients cope with the effects of chemotherapy with the help of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. It supports all young patients before, during and after hair loss.
Gifts can make patients and their families feel seen and loved during a difficult time. That might mean escape to fun events, cards, toys or clothing. It eases the financial and emotional burdens so they can focus on healing.
Sometimes a patient or their family needs something right away. It’s often a time-sensitive need that requires creative problem solving. Dragonfly remains committed to doing all it can to create joy for families.
Dragonfly hosts events that allow families to connect with each other. They also help arrange special events with their partners throughout the city. Giving tickets with suites allows immunocompromised patients and their families a chance to experience things they love safely.
Technology remains a powerful tool for families. Dragonfly provides laptops, tablets, gaming systems and charging stations for patients and families. This lets families stay connected and boosts spirits.
Twelve years after its founding, The Dragonfly Foundation has served over 6,700 patients and their families. Even more impressive is the fact that Dragonfly does all of this incredible work with a small team of only eight passionate, dedicated staff. Because of many generous supporters, The Dragonfly Foundation can hugely impact the lives of families that come to Cincinnati for treatment.
“You can help us help these families,” Neitzke says. “And the best way to do that is to donate.”
Can you help The Dragonfly Foundation fulfill its mission of bringing strength, courage and joy to children with cancer? Donate at dragonfly.org.