By Kirstin Grace-Simons (Madigan Army Medical Center)December 7, 2018
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Madigan Army Medical Center was fortunate to have Dorie Carr and her family volunteer for the 24th year to bring a Christmas tree to life with a fun theme. Staff, patients and visitors gathered around the bridge of the Medical Mall on Nov. 30 to light the tree and a menorah, hear the lore of the two symbols of light in the season of darkness, and celebrate together.
Keegan Bell, an 8-year-old patient at Madigan, was on hand to help Col. Thomas Bundt, Madigan's commander, throw the switch at the lighting ceremony.
"I'd like to thank the Bells; I'd like to thank staff involved with their care too, and the whole Madigan team because love and compassion and caring is what's helped this family along, and I'm eternally thankful for all of those who have had any hand in it," said Bundt.
Keegan, her little sister, Tierney; mom, Jessica; dad, Thad; and companion puppy, Biscuit, are in the middle of a series of holiday surprises. On Thanksgiving they had a dump truck of snow hauled in from Mount Rainier delivered to their house to ensure the season started off right.
It's more than just the season that the family is celebrating, though. It's being a family. And Keegan.
"Keegan is delightful to work with," said Andi Howe, a registered nurse in the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology clinic. "She is an imaginative, kind-hearted person who loves to have fun, and loves to joke. She and her family brighten my day every time they come here."
Keegan was diagnosed with leukemia in October 2017. Since that time, she has had various treatments in a few different facilities.
Knowing that tomorrow holds no guarantee for anyone, the Bell family is making the most of today.
"They've gone through a lot," explained Col. (Dr.) Melissa Forouhar, the chief of the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology clinic. "They've been good at trying to figure out how to keep things going for her sister and for her. And to get her the things she likes to do," she said of the Bell family.
To that end, they have recently returned from a trip to Legoland in San Diego. That trip followed one that was sponsored by the Make-A-Wish Foundation that took them to the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla. where Keegan was named as an honorary astronaut by NASA officials. Just before that, she had a ceremony here at Madigan with a former NASA astronaut as well.
Her favorite part of Legoland?
"The big store," Keegan said.
There she got a Saturn 5 rocket set. An enthusiastic space aficionado, she will explain the Saturn 5 was the rocket that launched the mission into space that landed on the moon. She will also easily relay that the set has 1,969 pieces to it, which have overtaken the dining room table.
Little sister Tierney got herself a Porg -- one of the penguin-type creatures from Star Wars. Together, the sisters went on nearly every ride, too.
Her other doctor, Lt. Col. (Dr.) David Harper added, "Her parents are very involved and always there for her. They do things together as a team very well."
Harper said Keegan's care team here asks themselves, "What can we do to help the family through all of this, and help Keegan?"
One of the answers to that question was Biscuit.
Biscuit is the cream-colored, curly-haired, 6-month-old Lagotto Romagnollo, or Italian water dog, that has been her constant companion.
"They've become best friends," said Harper. "Biscuit's in training to be a therapy dog. He spends a lot of time at the hospital."
"She was inpatient and got the dog and we were able to cut the amount of medication she was on by, like, half. Pain medication, blood pressure medication, anxiety, nausea, everything," said Forouhar. "She was a new person when the dog came."
In talking about the lighting ceremony at that treatment session, all wanted Keegan to have a fun and special time with her family. Howe hoped that, "even at her young age, she recognizes she's a representative of everyone here at Madigan working through their health problems. She works through her treatment in such a graceful way," she said.
At the ceremony, Chaplain (Capt.) Michael Harari informed the crowd, "The menorah stands today, 2000 years later, a beacon of light, a symbol of faith and strength, a tribute for all those who stand up for what is right."
Like the menorah and the Christmas tree beside it, the Bells, the Carrs and every part of the Madigan family help light the way through the winter darkness.