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SPOKANE VALLEY FIREFIGHTER, JOE SCHINDLER, TURNS HIS HEARTBREAK INTO SERVING OTHERS
WHEN A CHILD IS DIAGNOSED, A FAMILY IS DIAGNOSED…
Those are the words seen on the Anna Schindler Foundation website.
It all started in early 2010, when Firefighter Joe Schindler’s daughter had a side ache that did not go away. After an ER visit and sent to Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital, Anna Schindler was diagnosed with Stage IV liver cancer (Hepatoblastoma). She was 6 years old.
Polly said, “When we first walked into the Sacred Heart Children’s Pediatric Oncology floor we saw a bulletin board of pictures of bald headed children. My mind told me that Anna would not be on that wall.”
Denial was one of the first emotions the Schindler’s experienced.
“This could not be happening to us, this was something that happened on Saturday TV with the St. Jude’s commercials, not to people like us.”
The Schindlers did not get to hold onto that denial for very long. The intensity of Anna’s cancer became very apparent very quickly. Joe had to balance his job, family and now a critically ill child who was hospitalized. He hoped his time going forward would be spent with Anna and the family.
Joe’s firefighter family, Spokane Valley Fire, stepped up to relieve some of Joe and Polly’s burden. The firefighters took Joe’s work shifts so he could be with Anna at the hospital. They donated vacation time so he could be with his family during critical times. Joe’s captain at the time put a team together and finished renovations of siding and window on his home that had been started shortly before Anna was diagnosed. Firefighters have some of the most generous hearts as Joe’s family witnessed firsthand.
Little Anna was to undergo 10 rounds of intensive chemotherapy but only made it through four and a half rounds. It was very hard on her little system. She underwent surgery to remove 70% of her liver that contained a large tumor which showed she had two different cancers. Five short months after diagnosis, her heart significantly damaged and her body tired from chemo and surgeries, Anna passed away. On Joe’s wrist is a tattoo of his hospital band. He will never forget his little Anna who fought so hard and was so loved.
At Anna’s funeral, she was buried to the SVFD Pipe and Drums “Amazing Grace” and many firefighters and staff attended in their Class A uniforms. The SVFD provided meals for the Schindlers during this very difficult time. With all the community outpouring of love they experienced during those long months of disbelief and helplessness, Joe and his wife Polly knew they would give back to the community who had helped them.
Prior to Anna’s passing, the Schindlers passed the room of a small boy about 4 years old on the oncology floor. There was an older woman with him. This little boy had the same doctor as Anna. They learned he had the exact same diagnosis as Anna. They also learned the woman who was with him was his foster parent. It broke the Schindler’s heart to see someone so young suffering and without his family. The Schindler’s inquired about him with social workers and found out he was up for adoption. Though they knew this diagnosis could be kill him, the Schindler family with Anna’s approval prior to her passing decided to adopt this little boy. He went from being alone to being loved by six other brothers and sisters in a stable home. This little boy is now 13, thriving and is considered cured from liver cancer.
Due to their personal experience of having a child with cancer, they understood what a family going through childhood cancer treatment experiences. Families suffer income loss, being displaced from home while their child receives treatment, increased expenses in addition to regular living expenses. This emotional and financial stress is tremendously hard on a family. The Schindler family wanted to help, for this very reason they started the Anna Schindler Foundation in honor of Anna. The Anna Schindler Foundation (ASF) was formed in early 2011 shortly after Anna’s passing. The ASF serves all families with a child diagnosed with pediatric cancer in the Inland Northwest by assisting with the financial needs that occur as a result of a diagnosis of cancer.
In addition to supporting families financially, the ASF purchased land on Spokane’s South Hill with the intention of building temporary homes for families from outlying areas. When a child is going through intensive treatment and home is not a medically safe distance from the hospital, Anna’s Homes provide a place of refuge and a haven of hope where families can be together. With community support the first two homes (Anna’s Homes) were built and finished in November of 2018. Anna’s Homes were created specifically for families going through childhood cancer treatment. The Anna Schindler Foundation works to advocate for these families during their crisis to provide a warm and safe home away from home. A night’s stay costs only $35.00 and is paid through the family’s insurance or donations that cover these nights for families that cannot afford it. The average stay for a family is 60 days. Since November 2018, 12 families have benefitted from Anna’s Homes.
In the United States, 43 children are diagnosed with cancer daily. Cancer remains to be the number one cause for death by disease in America. In 2017, 44 families heard the words “your child has cancer” in the Inland Northwest. As a community, we can spread awareness and make a difference.
SVFD employees support this Foundation through volunteer payroll deductions. Donations can also be made by visiting the Anna Schindler Foundation.
- Julie Happy