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Never Stand Alone: 6 Questions With Broken Dolls Founder Jennifer Cox

Meet Jennifer Cox, founder and chairwoman of the nonprofit Broken Dolls, which is reaching out to the parents of chronically ill and deceased children. Jennifer knows the daily challenges, heartbreak and painful loss of childhood illness. Her daugher, Tiffany, was diagnosed with Lupus at the age of 5. After years of caring for Tiffany, Jennifer lost her child to the disease just a few months before her 25th birthday. 

Jennifer turned her sadness into a mission to help others. She wrote a book detailing her personal journey to help parents navigate the difficulty of medical adversity in childhoold. Jennifer has also facilitated a support group for patients waiting for a life-saving transplant as part of her job as community advocate for Southwest Transplant Alliance. She travels extensively to speak on behalf of the importance of organ donation. She has gained recognition for her positive work. In 2009, Jennifer received the Patient of the Year award from Methodist Medical Center for community service.

We wanted to know more about Jennifer and Broken Dolls, and she was kind enough to answer a few questions:

Dawn Tongish: Please begin by telling us about Broken Dolls.

Jennifer Cox: Broken Dolls is a 50l(c)(3) founded by me in 2012. My daughter Tiffany was diagnosed with Lupus SLE at the age of 5. After taking care of her for 20 years, I knew the needs of moms that care for their ill children on a daily basis. I wanted to help other moms facing these challenges in caring for their chronically ill children. Sadly, Tiffany passed away three months before her 25 birthday.

The Vision Statement of Broken Dolls is "To never have parents stand alone during the illness or death of a child."  Some of the services we provide are:

  • Annual retreats for moms of chronically ill children, and moms with children that have long term illnesses
  • Annual memorial brunch for parents that have lost a child or children
  • Support groups for moms of chronically ill children
  • Annual Care Giver seminars to help these moms learn how to care for themselves, while they care for their child(ren)
  • In-services to help educate staff and parents about the benefits of Broken Dolls
  • Small gifts to children at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children
  • Occasional lunches for parents at Ronald McDonald House
  • Snack packages for parents at Ronald McDonald House to carry as they visit their children in the hospitals.

DT: What are your duties at Broken Dolls?

JC: My duties include:

  • Planning events
  • Putting together the itinerary
  • Sending communications to moms about events...save the date cards, invitations, instructions and sometimes providing transportation
  • Communication with moms to monitor how they are doing, and if we can support them during difficult times, sometimes by personal touch and/or referrals
  • Visiting various locations prior to events
  • Planning fundraisers
  • Contacting potential donors
  • Overseeing duties that are assigned to other board members
  • Working to get our information to the public
  • Writing brochures, and other information for public use
  • Contacting speakers for events
  • Working with our preferred hotel (Holiday Inn Express/Fair Park) to get additional time for our ladies to get time away during extreme stress

DT: It is obvious that your passion comes from your years of experience and love for your daughter. You have channelled that inner drive into a book that you share with others. 

JC: I had written a book titled "Broken Dolls/Gathering the Pieces - Caring for Chronically Ill Children." Broken Dolls, the book, was published in 2010. It is sort of a road map or guide to help parents that are newly facing the loving task of caring for their ill child. I used a lot of tips and examples of things I learned along the way that will be helpful to parents, and make some task easier. I also shared information regarding the entire family, which involves other children in their household. It is important that they don’t feel left out due to the sometimes intense care needed by the ill child.

In the book I also give illustrations of how others can assist them. The book was released in August 2010. Tiffany passed away in July of 2010, I received my second kidney transplant in 2011, and everything stopped until 2012.  I needed time for physical and emotional healing. Getting back on my feet, the next step was to put together retreats for moms that were facing the challenge of new diagnoses for their beautiful children. With these ideas it was obvious that I needed to form an official way to bring this care to life. Again, I am passionate because I have lived this life, and I know how much we love our children, but at the same time we get fatigued. Sometimes you just have to relax and have some “me” time.  It is also great to share with other moms in the same situation. They understand and I don't have to explain anything to them. Unfortunately, I did not have that roadmap, hence was born the vision.

Broken Dolls supports parents facing the most difficult situations. What do families need most during those traumatic times in life? When your child is ill many times you need hands on help from people that are close to you to assist in the daily life chores, such as run errands, pick up children from school, run to get groceries, sit with child while you take a nap.  These are simple things, but they are so important to caregivers.  This is usually done by close friends or family. There was a time I was so exhausted when Tiffany had been in the hospital for five weeks, I asked friends (those she knew well, and were like sisters to me) to go to the hospital and sit with her, when I had no energy left after working a full day. Other times, they [parents] just need someone to talk to that has faced what they are facing. Sometimes, they just need someone to listen.  Other times they need someone to reassure them that they will make it and be OK. I surely did when my daughter passed away. I had my friend, Pam Silvestri, (my kidney donor) call two wonderful ladies I knew that had lost children. They were able to address all that I was going through, answer questions about thoughts I believed no one else had except me. This kind of support is how I made it through those challenging days.

DT: How can the people of North Texas and beyond help meet your needs for 2014? What are your biggest needs?

JC: Thanks for asking this questions. The people of North Texas can go onto our webpage, or join us on Facebook to learn more about us and follow our events. They can tell people about Broken Dolls, what we do and highlight the moms that are being helped.  Also refer someone that may be in need of our services. As a fairly new nonprofit, we need financial support to help us continue to do the things we are doing, and allow us to reach more moms and hopefully start programs for dads as well.  

Present needs: We need support to continue our retreats (respites), and educational seminars for these moms, as in cost of hotel, or retreat centers, cost of meals. We need support to help us with the meals for Ronald McDonald House. We need support for our Memorial Brunches for parents with deceased children. We need in kind support so we can provide pampering for moms while at retreat. 

Future needs: As we look to the future, we want to be able to allow moms assistance after a long term hospital stay, as in a short time for rest at a hotel or other “get aways." We hope to provide transportation to events for those ladies in need due to financial restrictions, and they have no automobile. My largest dream is to one day have a facility for moms to call in and make a reservation for a 24 or 48-hour stay.

DT: Have you found that some families have no one and nowhere to turn to in their most desperate times of crisis?

JC: Most of our moms have limited family support simply because of family obligations, and some have no family to assist. Then there is always the issue of limited knowledge of the critical care needed by some of these children. There is no room for error. At this time we can only make referrals.  We would love to be able to assist with this need in some way.

DT: What is your most memorable moment at Broken Dolls?

JC: There are two things:

  1. At our first support group meeting one lady was crying and asked me through her tears "Where have you been? I have needed this." My reply was, "I have been in training."
  2. At our first retreat, which was held at a wonderful ranch, seeing two moms running through the wooded area at night laughing like little girls. I thought "Mission accomplished." 

 If you'd like to nominate a local resident for a BubbleLife community profile, contact Dawn Tongish at dtongish@yahoo.com or find her on Twitter at @DawnTongish.

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Monday, November 10, 2014