When Logan and Mason Crommelin turned 7 a few weeks ago, the twins did the same thing they’ve been doing for each one of their birthdays. They brought cookies to the nurses and staff at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Christus Ochsner Lake Area Hospital.
“They’re family,” said their mother, Jill Crommelin. “My boys wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them.”
The twins were born at just 23 weeks. They were tiny — Logan was barely more than a foot long and weighed 1 pound, 7 ounces. Mason was only 10.5 inches long and weighed 1 pound, 3 ounces. Thus started about a year of constant traveling as Crommelin and her husband, Michael, drove from their home in DeRidder to hospitals from New Orleans to Houston, with “home base” being Women and Children’s Hospital (now Christus Ochsner Lake Area Hospital) in Lake Charles. Logan needed heart surgery. They both needed eye surgeries and they grew to know their neurologist, cardiologist, pulmonologist, ophthalmologist and gastrointestinal specialist very well.
Now, seven years later, their story is motivating the start of a new program called the Kiwanis Family Fund, which is designed to help families when children are born with special needs. And the boys’ birthday will become intertwined with two non-profits’ birthdays — the 100th birthday of the Kiwanis Club and the 111th birthday of CHRISTUS Ochsner St. Patrick Hospital.
The new fund will be launched at the Kiwanis 100th Birthday Bash Celebration on Saturday, May 11. The Bash will take place from 6-9 p.m. at L’Auberge Casino Resort and will include dinner, special presentations and entertainment. Two bands will play — Second Wind, a band led by Marc and Pattie Davidson who are originally from Lake Charles, and the Rosedown Rockers, a rollicking local band led by Dr. Kevin Young.
Tickets are $75 and are available from Kiwanis members or on the web site, www.KiwanisCMN.org. Sponsorships and donations are also accepted online.
The need for the Kiwanis Family Fund was first articulated by the nurses and staff at the NICU unit who saw the families of their tiny patients struggle to take care of a myriad of everyday needs not covered by insurance. Nurses and staff will have the chance to identify families with children at the Christus Ochsner Lake Area Hospital’s NICU, the Kid’s Team Outpatient Therapy Program, and the Labor and Delivery unit.
Sometimes the need will be help with transportation. Crommelin pointed out that traveling between hospitals in multiple states can be exhausting and expensive, especially when family members need to spend days or weeks at a hospital. Other areas of need are adaptive tricycles and bicycles, special feeding instruments, and educational supplies.
“Some of these needs are relatively small,” said Cara Wyland, Children’s Miracle Network director and the annual events manager at Christus Ochsner SWLA Foundation. “But they can seem huge,” she said, “especially when parents are faced with getting everything they need all at once.”
Premature babies usually come at an unexpected time, she said, “so there probably wasn’t a baby shower, and if there was, it almost certainly didn’t include things like tiny little preemie diapers!”
The idea for the Kiwanis Family Fund happened over dinner. Three Kiwanians and Kay Barnett, executive director of development for Christus Ochsner SWLA Foundation, happened to be seated next to each other, and discovered how much their respective organizations had in common.
First, they were both “old.” The Kiwanis Club was about to celebrate 100 years, and Christus Ochsner St. Patrick Hospital was 111 years old. But, more importantly, they shared a desire to serve children, families and this community.
The mission of Kiwanis International is “to improve the world one child and one community at a time.” The SWLA Kiwanians gave this project a slightly different theme – “Make a World of Difference, One LOCAL Child at a Time.” There are nine SWLA Kiwanis clubs — Calcasieu, DeRidder, Jennings, Lake Charles, North Lake Charles, South Lake Charles, Southwest Contraband, Sulphur and West Cal — and all of them partner with local schools and organize special programs that benefit their communities.
Such projects have been going on for a century. Ninety-nine years ago, for example, the Kiwanis Club raised money for the Central School Playground and helped form the Boy Scouts of America in Calcasieu Parish, sponsoring Troupe One.
Each club continues to serve Southwest Louisiana in a variety of ways. The Lake Charles Kiwanis Club, for example, sponsors Coats for Kids, collecting and distributing more than 1,000 warm coats every year. Last year alone, they collected 1,550 coats. South Lake Charles Kiwanis Club sponsors an annual Christmas shopping spree for children who otherwise would likely not receive gifts, and the Southwest Contraband Kiwanis Club holds an annual community baby shower for expectant mothers with limited resources.
In Sulphur, the Sulphur Kiwanis Club hosts the annual Christmas parade. The Jennings Kiwanis Club enables families to receive information and participate in summer enrichment programs such as reading, swimming lessons, dance and cheer camps and vacation Bible school.
The program at the Birthday Bash will highlight these projects and many more. “We will go through our history decade by decade, with the bands playing music popular at that time,” said Joel Davidson of the Lake Charles Club.
Barnett’s organization is also dedicated to children and community. The hospital, and now the Christus Ochsner SWLA Foundation, has operated the Children’s Miracle Network for 32 years. Two years ago, Christus Ochsner Health SWLA brought Lake Area Hospital, located at 4200 Nelson Road, into their ministry to expand services for women and children. Through the Children’s Miracle Network, the Foundation has been able to upgrade the NICU at Lake Area with major purchases totaling a half million dollars, according to Wyland. One of the purchases is a $220,000 Transport Isolette, which acts as a traveling NICU. “It was an urgent need,” she said. “It allows us to transport premature babies or babies born with special needs.”
However, the Children’s Miracle Network does not usually provide funds for the little things. “It doesn’t pay for those two-inch long preemie diapers, or the transportation issues faced by families such as the Crommelins,” Wyland said. “With this new fund, we will be able to take away some of the worry about how to pay for this or take care of that. We will be able to touch families in a very personal way.”
Two very special guests will be honored at the Kiwanis Birthday Bash — the twins Mason and Logan Crommelin. “I wish this fund would have been available for us seven years ago,” their mother said. “My family will do everything we can to help make it a reality for the families today who are going through what we went through.”