by Len Lear
Wyndmoor’s Sara Burke was a vibrant, energetic, fun-loving, typical five-year-old. She loved arts and crafts, mac ‘n cheese, music, her Big Wheel and her big brother and big sister.
On July 6, 2007, however, Sara was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. At the tender age of 4, she underwent many surgeries, chemotherapy, stem cell transplants and painful procedures of all sorts. Sara’s initial brain surgery left her with significant deficits such as double vision and left-sided weakness.
Sara worked very hard in a variety of therapies to regain her strength, coordination and independence. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia became a home away from home for Sara and her family. She and her mother lived there for seven months.
“Sara wanted to give back and help the other kids in the hospital,” said her mother, Jen, in an earlier interview.
Tragically, on May 12, 2008, Sara lost her courageous battle with cancer. She left behind a legacy of hope and love that is truly inspirational. Sara battled her disease with fierce determination and an unwavering positive attitude, living every moment to its fullest, even under the most adverse circumstances.
Although physically distant from the world she knew, Sara was able to harness the power of love and support. This energy filled her heart, brightened her outlook and strengthened her resolve to fight.
The Sara’s Smiles Foundation, a designated 501(c)(3) organization, was created by Sara’s family after her death to carry on her memory, spirit and legacy of hope, determination, and cheer.
“Sara made many, many happy memories in the hospital, and this was the primary inspiration for the foundation,” according to her parents. “Our mission is to extend a loving hand in creating a positive environment and upbeat experiences. We want to make happy memories for all children who are struggling with cancer by providing a variety of resources to entertain, comfort and educate…
“We believe fear can be eased by helping children and their families better understand their journeys. The Sara’s Smiles Foundation offers resources that not only educate but also create a positive, personal environment along with activities and crafts that inspire an upbeat experience.”
The Sara’s Smiles website offers links to ideas to many other resources that provide education, support and entertainment for children with cancer. They can help the children better understand, manage and enjoy each day to the max.
Sara’s Smiles’ “Inspiration Kits” are given to every child admitted to the oncology units in five Mid-Atlantic children’s hospitals — Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, Nemours/A.I. DuPont Hospital for Children and Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.
The kit contains items in a durable, portable box that can travel throughout the hospital with the children, supplying, storing and protecting materials that not only light up the children’s rooms but their spirits as well.
The kit includes an expandable file for storing important papers and keepsakes, a form letter to notify and reach out to family, friends and community; a tote bag to hold necessary items while in transit through the hospital, a craft activity and room decoration as well as a squeeze toy for stress release.
According to Jen, “The kits help to lift the cloud and inspire the joy that will help families stay organized, connect to others and explore creative ways to encourage smiles. Our goal is to be in hospitals nationwide. Smiles are essential to any child’s well-being, and we are dedicated to providing them at a time when they are needed most.”
Sara’s dad, Kevin, and his brother, Sean, own and operate Burke Brothers Landscape Contractors of Wyndmoor, a landscape design/build firm serving the Greater Philadelphia area since 1990. This weekend, May 2 to 4, the Sara’s Smiles Foundation will hold its 6th annual plant sale at Burke Brothers Landscape Design, 7630 Cheltenham Ave., Wyndmoor, to raise funds to provide more pediatric cancer patients with “Inspiration Kits.” More information at 215-416-8636.
A donation to help brighten the lives of pediatric cancer patients can be sent to: The Sara’s Smiles Foundation, 1349 Lindsay Lane, Meadowbrook, PA 19046. For more information, visit www.burkebrothers.com or www.saras-smiles.org.