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A Priceless Gift that Turned the Winter Season Around for a Sick Child

By Maggie Brown | March 3, 2017 | Employee Spotlights, Corporate Citizenship

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This story landed in my inbox earlier this year, and I found it so moving that I wanted to share it here.

It’s a story about the fierce love between parent and child. It’s about the deep bond between a sick young boy and his companion. And it’s about a woman, who like so many of us, saw the holidays as a series of to-do lists, but through a special encounter rediscovered its magic. 

As a mom to a son close in age to young Jack (and who has a similar devotion to a stuffed animal), this story made me want to do my ugly cry right at my desk when I first read it (and every time after!).

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Rita Hewell

Blue Cross employees like Rita spent more than 60 hours volunteering last year at local Ronald McDonald Houses. Each Ronald McDonald House in North Carolina and across the nation provides a “home away from home” for families of seriously ill children undergoing treatment at hospitals.

I hope that you appreciate this story as much as I do. Special thanks to Rita Hewell, manager of system support services here at Blue Cross, for living it and writing about it for us.

Below is Rita’s story.

“Keep those Beanie Babies,” my mom said.  “They’ll be worth something someday.”

Oh, little did my mother know how true that statement would be this past Christmas.

Sigh … this past Christmas. I’m usually running behind at Christmas, and this past Christmas it seemed worse than ever before. It was the Monday before Christmas, and no presents had been wrapped, the tree was up with lights but no ornaments, the house wasn’t decorated, I had performance reviews to finish at work, I had treats to make for a goodie day, my parents were flying in in a few short days, and my house was a wreck. “Grumpy” didn’t even begin to describe my mood. 

To add to the “to do” list was a volunteer opportunity at the Ronal McDonald House in Durham. My team had signed up to volunteer for the Santa Room and I had dutifully said that I would go. I had never volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House before and it seemed like the right “Christmassy thing” to do. 

When I arrived at the Ronald McDonald House that Monday morning I was in a dark mood.  Traffic … awful. Parking … a pain.  Work … on my mind.

I tried to put on my best “helpful elf” face. The Santa Room was a large conference room filled to overflowing with gifts for all ages. Our job was to help parents staying at the Ronald McDonald House “shop” for Christmas gifts for their children and to wrap the gifts. I must say, it was hard to be “bah humbug” when faced with stacks of donated  games, clothes, books, toys, electronics, stuffed animals,  all waiting to become gifts for the children and parents facing the biggest battles of their lives. We were all touched as parents arrived during their shopping time slot. Some parents didn’t have the time or the money to shop for Christmas – and seeing their faces light up was a joy to behold as we explained we were there to help them pick out gifts for their family. 

One parent especially touched our hearts. As Dan shopped for his family, he was particularly interested in the stuffed animal selection. His son Jack was the reason that they were at RMH. Just the day before, Jack’s well-loved traveling companion of several years, a Beanie Baby ghost that he named Ghostie, had been lost. Jack had been devastated. Dan teared up as he looked for a replacement for Ghostie.  Unfortunately, there was no ghost to be found. After Dan left to get his gifts wrapped, my team and I talked about how we could somehow get a ghost for Jack.

But wait! The Beanie Babies my mom had given my children when they were young – they were all in my attic, stored in bins. Maybe, just maybe, a ghost would be in one of the bins. I got Dan’s phone number and promised I would look. I could hardly wait to get home that night. I sat on the attic floor and dug through mounds of Beanie Babies, praying that I would find a ghost. And then – there they were – not one but two types of ghosts! I texted Dan a picture. He answered, letting me know that I had found Ghostie.

The next day at work, the whole team celebrated. We also found out that this Beanie Baby was considered somewhat rare – so finding Ghostie had become our own Christmas miracle. 


I headed off to RMH to drop Ghostie off at the front desk. As luck would have it, Jack’s mom just happened to be at the front desk when I arrived. She said that Jack’s Ghostie was well-loved, dingy, and worn thin. They had a plan for introducing this new Ghostie to Jack:  His doctors were going to bring in Ghostie and let Jack know the reason that Ghostie had been away was because he was getting a stem cell transplant (just like Jack!) and that Ghostie was looking brighter and healthier because of his transplant.

In the space of two days, Christmas turned completely around. Joy returned to Christmas all because of a boy named Jack and a Beanie Baby.

And when my mom visited for Christmas, I was able to tell her that yes, indeed, those Beanie Babies were worth something. One Beanie Baby was priceless.