Most parents are prepared to move mountains to protect their children, but they never imagine they will really have to. Amanda and Cary White certainly never did.
The couple, along with their daughters, 5-year-old Isla and 7-year-old Ellie, are reluctant transplants to Central Ohio. They arrived three weeks ago from Montreal, Quebec, Canada, so Ellie could be placed under the care of the doctors and nurses at Nationwide Children’s Hospital for several months.
When she was 5 years old, Ellie was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, undergoing treatment that ended with a bone marrow transplant. She recuperated well and was soon out of the hospital and ready to resume the normal life of a second-grader.
The White family then received word that Ellie’s leukemia had returned. Treatment options were limited but the family, especially Ellie, was not ready to concede the fight. “We researched the world,” Amanda White said. “We talked to specialists at the most prestigious hospitals in the world, and they all pointed us to one place.”
The doctors at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus were working on an experimental transplant for people with Ellie’s condition. Without a second thought, the family packed up and moved across two countries to get Ellie the care she needed.
When they arrived in Columbus, White said the family was tired, scared, stressed and nervous, but they were greeted by the open arms of the Jewish community.
“Every person we have met has been so warm and welcoming,” White said.
Jackie Jacobs, executive director emeritus of the Columbus Jewish Foundation, said he received a note about Ellie and her family from Dr. Jeffrey Segal, an assistant professor of medicine at McGill University and a consultant general internist at St. Mary’s Hospital.
“And then, through word of mouth,” Jacobs said, “the community rose up to help this family.”
Even before Ellie arrived for treatment with her family, the Jewish community in Columbus was hard at work. When Dayna Rotenberg Khadoury, a Montreal resident and friend of the White family, heard they were moving to Columbus, she contacted her sister-in-law Katie Rotenberg, who lives in Bexley with her husband and two children.
Rotenberg and others helped the White family with their transition to Ohio, quickly finding housing and necessities so they could establish some semblance of a normal life. One resident pulled their home off the market to rent it to the family, while a local business donated furniture, towels and more.
Bikur Cholim helped the White family early on, providing lunch and dinner for two weeks. The organization helps Jewish families whose relatives are patients in Columbus-area hospitals. The Hebrew phrase – bikur cholim – means visiting the sick which, in Jewish tradition, is a mitzvah or good deed.
The Whites enrolled their younger daughter into the Columbus Jewish Day School, and parents and staff at the school organized a meal chain, carpools and playdates.
“The community has really pulled together to support this family so that they can put all of their focus on Ellie,” said Rotenberg, whose daughter is one of Isla’s classmates at CJDS.
Through the CJDS meal chain, the White family now will have dinners delivered every day through January. Rotenberg marveled at how quickly everything took off, saying many of the people helping haven’t yet met Ellie and her family – they just wanted to do what they could.
“It’s what it’s all about,” Jacobs said. “Helping someone else.”
Noell Wolfgram Evans writes for the Cleveland Jewish News from Columbus.