Did you know what you wanted to be when you grew up? Do you even know now as an adult? I’m still working on it but one of my best friends has always known what she wanted, it just wasn’t available as an actual paper degree.

I was lucky to find a very special group of girlfriends while I was at college. Somehow or another our motley crew of six all met and became fast friends and made wonderful memories as roommates. There were six of us in a house pursuing different goals and different dreams. Jenny Long was one of our roommates. I didn’t meet her until my junior year of college but I had definitely seen here around our campus. You really couldn’t miss her, she’s tall, blonde and beautiful, but what really stands out is how she is always smiling and friendly. Jenny’s that girl who is always laughing and having fun and everyone – girls and guys – want to be around her.  I’ll never forget a conversation I had with Jenny during our senior year. We were both complaining about school and our classes and Jenny very simply stated that she just wanted to be a mom as her job. She was currently majoring in Education with the job of elementary teacher on the horizon and I was a Finance major whose goal was a corner office, 6 dogs and definitely not children of any kind. Of course we both laughed at this because there was no major available for motherhood but looking back now I realize there really didn’t have to be. Life has a funny way of giving you all the training you need for exactly the job you are supposed to have.

When we graduated I did the usual business suit interview circuit and accepted a job in mutual funds. It paid well. I didn’t like it.  I was bored and drove in the right hand lane slowly to work. I met a guy who made my heart skip and I fell in deeply love. We got married at the end of September, just two weeks after two planes in New York changed life forever for our entire country. The economy changed and my company did layoffs. I was laid off. I was embarrassed, relieved and scared. I walked into a boutique for a job and fell in love with clothing and working without a desk. Then we were blessed with two lovely children and my heart swelled so big it sometimes feels like it is walking, running even, outside of my body. In a way it is as I watch our kids grow and get further away from the nest. My corner office is now an old stone house and our two kids and two dogs leave me in chaos and dog hair. Life is good and I’m grateful.

Jenny graduated with her degree in Education amid a market saturated with teachers. There was part-time sub work but not many full time positions close to home. Always wanting to be close to her family Jenny took a risk and went for a job at Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital, a traumatic illness and injury rehab center. Her background in Education, along with her patience, sunny disposition and warm smile, made her a perfect fit for a cognitive therapist. Her job was to teach people of all ages and with traumatic brain injuries how to retrain their brain with regard to speech and other cognitive functions. While I would have probably run from the room given the physical description of the state of some of her patients, Jenny was a wonderful addition to their lives. Jenny had already met her eventual husband Scott the summer before our senior year of college and knew from day one she wanted to marry him. They married a few years after she graduated and Jenny Long became Jenny Raimondo. Not long after Jenny went after her dream job, to be a mom. When she had her first daughter, Sammi, Jenny 0stayed home full time. Shortly after they had Ella and then Maddi. In a perfect world Jenny would keep going and we would probably see her on the news of a mom of 18 kids and counting. Her girls’ lives are full and busy, dance and gymnastics being a huge part of life outside of school.  Jenny has her dream career and she is one of the best I know at what she does. There was no formal training for this job, no handbook, no mentor, no rules. Just a die hard desire to love your kids hard and to keep them safe.

 

In April of 2014 Scott and Jenny took a trip to Mexico to celebrate Easter with other members of Scott’s family. While I was with my family Jenny sent me a text wishing us a Happy Easter along with this photo. It was a happy photo of Jenny’s girls and their cousins, celebrating their holiday at a restaurant on the island.  Just seconds later their lives would be forever changed.

mex

Maddi, second from right.

Moments after this photo was taken Maddi, who was 5 at the time took a tragic misstep and fell off of the rooftop balcony. As fast as this occurred it felt like a slow motion moment for Jenny as she rushed to grab Maddi, who was only inches away, only to lock eyes with Maddi as she fell more than 20 feet to the ground below in what would appear at first to be a fatal accident. By the grace of God Maddi was still alive when they reached her at the ground below. Relief was followed by panic and urgency. They were on an island. It would take a full 2 hours to get to the nearest hospital in Cancun, using an ambulance, a ferry and yet another ambulance to get to the emergency room. These were 2 hours filled with shock and fear, as there was no immediate way to tell exactly what kind of external and internal injuries Maddi had sustained. Arriving at the hospital in Cancun brought little relief as there was a language barrier and countless tests and x-rays. It would take 2 days of hell but they were able to make arrangements  to obtain a medically staffed flight to transport Maddi back to the United States and specifically to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Maddi had broken bones, internal bleeding and skull fractures, but there was hope when they arrived at the Philadelphia airport and were met by an ambulance to transport Maddi to one the best pediatric care hospitals in our country. It would take multiple surgeries and countless tests with multiple doctors to be able to bring Maddi back home with her family to finish her recovery. But Maddi came home. Scott and Jenny had their daughter alive and Sammi and Ella had their sister. The words survival, strength and gratitude took on a new meaning for the entire Raimondo family.

The tricky thing is that recovery is not a destination. It is not a ribbon you run through at the end of a marathon. Recovery is a bit elusive because although bones can be mended and bruises can heal, it is very hard to look into the brain and to fix trauma. Post traumatic stress disorder often accompanies a traumatic brain injury so the emotional component has to be addressed along with the cognitive. It was tragic twist for Jenny’s time spent at Bryn Mawr Rehab to come full circle and hit so close to home. Jenny and her family would be forever changed, but will eternally carry with them a deep sense of grace and gratitude. It would be easy to devote all of her time to her own family but Jenny decided very quickly to turn her dedication to recovery to include much more than her own family.

When the brain experiences a traumatic injury all non-essential cognitive function needs to cease so that all of the energy of the brain can go into recovery mode. If you have ever had a child experience a concussion in the past several years then you probably know that the brain needs to be on a bed rest of sorts. No reading, no watching tv, no smart phones. This type of restrictive cognitive function is difficult even for adult, let alone a child.  Without typical brain distractions many children are left with a heightened sense of anxiety, fear and general restlessness. Families are affected, including siblings who don’t know how to interact with their child or sibling while they are in recovery.  There are long days with lots of tests and meetings with doctors and nursers. There are also what feels like countless hours of just  waiting and resting. Jenny noticed how helpful simple coloring books and basic crafts were in bringing her family together in an activity to help with Maddi’s recovery. They were small purchases with a large impact to put smiles back on faces. Jenny had an idea and the Maddi’s Bag non- profit organization was born.

From http://www.maddisbag.com:

It is the mission of Maddi’s Bag to help comfort children when the unexpected confronts them traumatically. Our board is dedicated to providing young trauma patients with a bountiful supply of injury & age appropriate activities and accessories that minimize stress, foster communication and help reconnect families during recovery from near fatal accidents. It’s our goal to celebrate the valuable impact and critical role doctors, nurses and therapists have on their patients and their families.

 

 

 

 

 

Maddi’s Bag works directly with The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to donate funds and filler items to Maddi’s Bag. Their largest fundraiser event is the Shop 4 CHOP day held inside of Scott and Jenny’s home. 

Shop 4 CHOP and Maddi’s Bag – November 2nd, 2017

This Thursday, November 2nd, please join us at the Raimondo family home for a truly unique shopping experience. A  $10 donation at the door gives you access to more than 20 vendors, including my friends from Scout and Molly’s in Glen Mills and Jen from Power Beads by Jen. The event is an excellent opportunity to do some early holiday shopping, with products for everyone on your list and nearly every age, all in the comfort of Scott and Jenny’s home. You don’t have to worry about knowing anyone, as everyone there is all there for the same reason. They want to help. The money raised at the Shop 4 CHOP event will go directly to the Maddi’s Bag fund at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. If you can’t attend but still would like to donate, please follow the links at the bottom of this post.

Maddi’s Bag believes charity is contagious and we invite you to join us in comforting children when the unexpected confronts them traumatically.

62 L’Enfant Court, Glen Mills, PA
9am – 2pm & 5pm – 10pm
$10 entry fee
Come shop the 20+ vendors participating.
There will be vendor raffles as well as amazing raffles from various local businesses & restaurants.
Sample delicious treats and drinks while enjoying great company and supporting MADDI’S BAG, a pediatric trauma comfort bag program.
Bring a friend, kids are welcome!
Together let’s celebrate survival, strength & gratitude!!

 


Additional details for this event can be found on the following links:

www.maddisbag.com

Facebook page for  theShop 4 Chop Event. 

Facebook page Maddi’s Bag.

 

 

Thanks for reading this very special post!

Suzie

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