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Three Diagnoses, Two Guilds, One Friendship

Lisa Wrenn and Karen Kaizuka, parents of Seattle Children's patients, found hope and friendship in guilds.

Team KeatonKaizuka's family participated with "Team Keaton" in September's Run of Hope.

Lisa Wrenn rarely left her son Keaton’s bedside in summer 2006 during the 16-month-old’s treatment for a cancerous brain tumor that had spread down his spine. While Wrenn kept vigil day and night with Keaton, her husband Chris brought their daughter Mason, then 3, to the hospital in the evenings, along with the well-wishes collected from friends and family.

Karen Kaizuka was one of those well-wishers. A former co-worker of Chris’s, Kaizuka had just started her own journey at Seattle Children’s. Her toddler, Oliver Boctor, was showing behaviors consistent with autism spectrum disorder.

“Karen’s messages were always so supportive,” remembers Lisa Wrenn. “I thought, ‘Someday, I hope to meet her.’”

On Keaton’s first day of kindergarten in 2010, Wrenn saw Oliver’s name on the class list written on the chalkboard, and the two moms finally got their opportunity to connect.

Wrenn says it was serendipity; Kaizuka calls it providence, explaining, “We were placed in each other’s lives to support one another.”

Healing and hope

Wrenn and Kaizuka with childrenWrenn (left) and Kaizuka with children (clockwise from right) Julian, Oliver, Emil, Mason and Keaton.

Today, the friends are active in two guilds, raising funds and awareness for the causes they are most passionate about. (Both guilds are accepting new members.)

Kaizuka, current president of the Seattle Children’s Autism Guild, joined the guild in 2010 after a friend took her to a meeting. “I loved the energy and the sense of camaraderie,” she says. “Before I joined the guild, I felt isolated and alone. Now I have a community that extends far beyond the guild’s purpose; they are some of my dearest friends.” The guild’s annual events – a St. Patrick’s Day Dash and an auction – have raised $1.5 million for Seattle Children’s Autism Center since 2009.

Wrenn joined the Pediatric Brain Tumor Research Guild in 2007, after Keaton’s treatment ended. “I can’t imagine life without a guild,” notes Wrenn. “They’ve helped both Karen and I heal and grow – and reclaim the parts of ourselves we lost fighting for our boys’ health and well-being.” The guild’s event, the Run of Hope, reached an important milestone this year: $1 million raised for brain tumor research. The guild has raised more than $1.7 million since 2005.

Wrenn and Kaizuka attend each other’s events to get new ideas and lend moral support. “We went from being virtual wallflowers in life to inspiring others with our stories,” says Kaizuka. “Every time I speak at an event, Lisa is always there to remind me why I have the courage to do all of this!” 

Paying it back

Wrenn and Kaizuka at Friends of Costco Guild event Wrenn spoke at the Friends of Costco Guild event in August, about Keaton's treatment; Kaizuka attended for moral support.

In fall 2010, Kaizuka’s oldest son, Julian, was hit in the head by a baseball during batting practice. The accident caused a brain bleed – a life-threatening trauma that was corrected by the same Children’s neurosurgeon who helped save Keaton’s life, further deepening the connection between the two women and their families as they help their boys meet the challenges of growing up with chronic medical conditions.

Both agree that the passion they feel for their guilds reflects the compassion that every single staff member shows them at Children’s – and they’re not alone. In the past three years, 19 of the 45 new guilds formed were started by parents of Children’s patients.

“We enjoy being able to pass that compassion on,” explains Wrenn. “One good turn deserves another… we feel blessed.”

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