The best ways to cope with tough times are with food, fun, and community. Nothing heals a broken heart better than comfort food enjoyed with some of your favorite people, even if no one can solve your problem all together. When you’re surrounded by confusing doctors and an uncertain future every day, a support system is the key for survival.
And no one knows about surviving more than the Walkers, who were trying to push doctors and uncertainty out of their minds one Saturday morning in January. See, the youngest Walker has seen the inside of a hospital room more than most people, but it seemed like this weekend would be unusually quiet…until their happy chatter was interrupted by sirens.
As the loud blare of the sirens got closer, Sandee and Adam Walker knew it wasn’t something they’d be able to ignore. Peering out their front window, they were greeted with an astonishing sight: A horde of police officers and firefighters rushing up their driveway.
The sirens were a chilling reminder of all they’d endured. Their young daughter, Quinn, was born with only half of her heart, but you’d never guess it from speaking with her. She’s sweet but vivacious, a true survivor at just two years old.
It’s hard to be a kid with an oxygen tank trailing behind you, but Quinn takes it in stride. The Walkers are always on the hunt for fun activities Quinn can do, a task that’s easier said than done. Sometimes, though, they hit the jackpot.
Like when they brought her to the carnival! The smile on her face is infectious, and her parents do what they can to make it appear as often as possible. Once in a while, though, they have to call in a favor.
When Sandee and Adam know Quinn is in need of some cheering up, they know exactly who to call. Even princesses like Cinderella and Belle know how important it is to make Quinn smile, but sometimes, Quinn’s reality simply isn’t a laughing matter.
Quinn has Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, meaning she developed only half of her heart in the womb. She’s survived two heart surgeries and will soon undergo her third. As brave as she is, the toddler sometimes needs a little help.
We’d never have guessed that Quinn was nervous here, but according to Sandee, it took them 10 minutes to walk into the building because Quinn was so anxious. The look on her face puts her bravery on full display…
She’s all smiles in this pic, even with her oxygen tank attached to help her breathe. Her perseverance is admirable, but it’s also a necessity in her case. A determined attitude is all part of Quinn’s personality, and it comes in handy…especially recently.
The Walkers usually take a trip to Flagstaff in January in order to enjoy the snow, but Quinn was too sick to travel. As strong as the Walkers are, such a disappointment was hard to bear…which makes having an equally strong support system a necessity.
Sandee’s biggest support system is through Facebook, where she posts #QuinnStrong to share Quinn’s story and support other HLHS families. Many of her followers are from her community, but Sandee had no idea what one FB friend had in store.
Adam is a firefighter with the Casa Grande Fire Department, and when one of his coworkers saw Sandee’s post about the trip, he immediately shared it with Corporal Mike Bejaran. With the help of the police department, they all formed a secret plan…
Oscar Perez/Pinal Central
That’s how they ended up speeding down the Walkers’ street early that January morning, rushing to give Quinn and the rest of the Walkers a gift they’d never forget. And when the Walkers opened their door, what they saw was unforgettable.
A blanket of snow, right on their front lawn! Despite the 60 degree weather, the Walkers had a winter wonderland in their very front yard, all thanks to the officers and firefighters of Casa Grande. Sandee and Adam were practically speechless.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Sandee admitted. Neither could her two sons, who stared at the five tons of snow in awe. It’s not every day a snow day is delivered to your front door! Of course, it was Quinn’s reaction that everyone was waiting to see.
At first, she eyed the snowy surprise with curiosity, unsure what to make of it. But as soon as her brothers started playing in the snow, her own kid-instincts kicked into gear! Still, her version of “playing” is a little different from her brothers’.
“She has to be on oxygen while she plays, but we’ll take it,” Sandee said as Quinn jumped, rolled, and made angels in the snow. Her oxygen tank didn’t seem to bother her much, especially when she took a relaxing ride on a sled!
To make the day even more magical, Quinn got a visit from everyone’s favorite ice queen, Elsa! While everyone laughed and played in the snow, Quinn was even able to learn one of winter’s most important lessons.
With her father to guide her, Quinn learned the ancient art of snowball making! Watching Quinn play in the snow was a special moment for Sandee and Adam, who were so used to restricting her activity. The fun didn’t stop, even hours later.
“The snow hasn’t melted yet and we are still soaking up as much snow fun as we can,” Sandee wrote on Facebook. After making some lifelong memories, Sandee and Adam had a message for all the people who helped make those memories possible.
Oscar Perez/Pinal Central
These memories were thanks to Bejarano and the officers and firefighters of Casa Grande, and Sandee and Adam had nothing but thanks for their kindness. “I’m so grateful for the community we have,” Sandee said.
Case Grande Fire Department/Facebook
The huge smile on Quinn’s face was proof that even kids in the most difficult of situations can have fun, especially when they have a loving support system cheering them on. They had loads of advice to offer other struggling parents.
Jeff and Julie would’ve loved to hear it. They might have had a flood of happiness rush at them on the day their daughter Addie was born, but that unbridled joy didn’t last long. Addie almost didn’t make it.
The moment they laid eyes on Addie, the Bryans saw something was wrong. Their baby had hip dysplasia, a club foot, and two knees that bent backwards. With a rare case of Larsen syndrome, the doctors doubted she’d ever walk.
Just days old, Addie underwent her first surgery. Dozens and dozens more followed over the next few years, with the Bryans estimating that their daughter went through 70 casts throughout her early childhood.
The Bryans placed their full faith in the staff of Texas Scottish Rite Hospital, located near their home in Dallas. Over the years, it built a sterling reputation for treating orthopedic conditions, particularly in children.
After years of medical intervention, there still wasn’t assurance that Addy would be able to lead a normal childhood. But amid all the darkness, the Bryans still clung tightly to a glimmer of hope — one member especially.
By the time she reached seven years old, Addy didn’t see herself as any different from other kids. She made the best of everything, despite her situation. Soon, her results began to impress everyone around her.
Though her legs still retained a slightly bent shape, Addie’s range of movement grew by leaps and bounds. Before long, she started to spend more time zipping around on her scooter than cooped up in the hospital.
And that wasn’t all. She could even run! Everyone understood that she had come an incredibly long way from her troubled infancy. There was no doubt about Addie’s good fortune, but something started to nag at her.
With her eighth birthday approaching, Addie knew she was incredibly lucky. Thanks to the folks at Scottish Rite Hospital, she could run, walk, and jump wherever she wanted. Addie only hoped every other kid could do the same.
One morning, Julie Bryan found her daughter tallying up her meager life’s savings. Addie shocked her by saying that she wasn’t just doing this for fun. She was looking to make a donation.
Addie wanted to make a real difference for the Scottish Rite Hospital in the form of a donation. Her mom suggested she open a lemonade stand with a couple friends to raise more money, but ultimately, that tactic only raised $60.
So, knowing she needed to get more aggressive, she grabbed a marker and some poster board and drew up a sign requesting donations for the hospital. Then, she ran out to her street corner in hopes of collecting a fortune.
Despite the sweltering Texas heat, Addie had an easy time standing on the corner once she saw the contributions roll in. Neighbors and complete strangers alike seemed happy to help out even if it was with just a few dollars.
After a couple months, Addie had built up a nice pile of money. Still, she was really looking to make a big fundraising leap in the final weeks before her birthday. Addie thought she could expand her operations beyond the street corner.
Addie and her parents reached out to a local restaurant called the Cotton Patch Cafe. They agreed to hold a charity event, and Addie went all out! Channeling her inner Pat Sajak, she set up a wheel of prizes to pack the house.
By the time her eighth birthday rolled around, Addie raised a whopping $19,500 for the hospital. For an institution that relied so much on charitable donations, this was huge. Not even Addie’s parents could believe she singlehandedly raised such a sum.
Her efforts gained a lot of attention. A number of outlets shared her story, from her local news station to People magazine! A live TV interview was a good birthday present, to be sure, but Addie was about to get a better one.
FOX 4 News
Stephanie Brigger, the hospital’s Vice President of Development, called the Bryans to share some big news: an anonymous donor felt so touched by Addie’s story that he decided to share a contribution of his own.
The Good Samaritan sent Scottish Rite an additional $50,000 in Addie’s name. That meant this eight year old’s donation totaled just under 70k! Most people couldn’t believe it, but this was exactly what Addie wanted.
She said she was glad to give so many other kids a shot at a happy life, as her gift could provide countless casts and prosthetics. Addie Bryan didn’t need anything else for her birthday. She proved that the best gift is giving back.
We tend to underestimate just how big a difference young people can make. But especially in the age of social media, they can truly change lives. When 18-year-old Tyrel Wolfe received an unusual friend request on Facebook one afternoon, he wasn’t sure what to make of it.
Ty Wolfe / Facebook
The request was from a young Filipino woman named Joana Marchan, and Tyrel was certain that they’d never met, let alone even been in the same country. Believing it to be just another scam, Tyrel declined the invitation.
Several years passed, and the strange friend request became a distant memory. He wasn’t much for Facebook anymore, but while casually checking his profile one day he noticed a new request in his inbox. The sender? Joana Marchan.
Tyrel’s interest was piqued, but his parents, wary of the type of people you find online, were understandably worried about this interest in their son. Still, Tyrel couldn’t resist getting to the bottom of this mystery. He opened the request and clicked “Confirm.”
Tyrel messaged the young woman, whose response only made things even more unclear: “you know about the Samaritan’s purse?” Tyrel was dumbfounded. What could this possibly mean? Was it some sort of code? Then, all at once, it hit him.
Samaritan’s Purse was a non-profit through which a seven-year-old Tyrel had donated a shoebox full of gifts as part of a charity program called Operation Christmas Child. But why, 11 years later, was this stranger from the Philippines contacting him about Christmas presents? And, most importantly, how did she know about his donation?
Then, Joana came clean: it was she that had received Tyrel’s shoebox all those years ago! Tyrel was blown away by the news, but even so, he was still skeptical of the young woman’s motivations. After all, how was he to know if “Joana” was really who she said she was? He needed proof.
Tyrel questioned Joana about the contents of his gift, but she was unable to recall anything specific about the shoebox. He was ready to write her off, but at the last minute, Joana brought up one key item that proved she was telling the truth.
In the original shoebox, Tyrel had included a picture of himself at the time of the donation. Joana recalled the photo in perfect detail, describing his “cute cowboy” outfit and the “wooden background” of the image. Without a doubt, Joana was exactly who she said she was — and the story of she and Tyrel was only just beginning.
Ty Wolfe / Facebook
Though most would go their separate ways after a one-off encounter like this, Tyrel and Joana stayed in touch and soon discovered they shared many of the same interests. Eventually, the pair was talking every day, and their Facebook chats soon blossomed into a fully-fledged friendship.
Over the next year and a half, Tyrel began saving up in the hope of visiting Joana after he graduated high school. As soon as he’d met his goal, he messaged Joana and immediately booked the next flight to the Philippines.
Long plane rides are rough on everyone, but being that Tyrel had never left the country alone before, the 14-hour trip from Idaho to the Philippines was especially tough. But no matter how difficult the journey, it was all worth it for Tyrel when he arrived to find Joana and her family waiting at the airport to welcome him.
What was meant to be a short visit for Tyrel became a month-long stay as he and Joana discovered that their connection was deeper and more real than they could’ve ever imagined. It was clear that the Facebook friends were becoming something much more.
Ty Wolfe / Facebook
Unfortunately, Tyrel had to say goodbye to Joana, but he knew in his heart that he couldn’t stay away for long. Putting in extra hours of part-time work between his college classes, Tyrel scrounged up enough money to make another trip back to the Philippines.
His second trip to see Joana was even better than the first, and it wasn’t long before the two had fallen in love. After learning a good amount of Tagalog – the native language of the Philippines – Tyrel approached Joana’s father to ask for one very important thing: his daughter’s hand in marriage.
Joana’s father agreed in a heartbeat, but her mother, fearing the couple was moving fast, was hesitant to give her blessing. Tyrel was heartbroken, but the young man was unwilling to leave the Philippines without the woman he loved by his side.
In a last-ditch effort, Tyrel convinced his father to fly in from Idaho to meet Joana and hopefully ease the tensions between him and her family. After several weeks of discussions, Tyrel and his father finally persuaded Joana’s mother to agree to the proposal.
In October of 2014, just five months after their engagement, the couple wed in a simple ceremony at Tyrel’s parents’ ranch. In lieu of wedding gifts, the newlyweds made an unusual request that brought their unconventional love story full circle.
Tyrel Wolfe / Facebook
Tyrel and Joana asked that each guest bring a shoebox of gifts to be donated to none other than Samaritan’s Purse! They also asked their guests to include a note about Tyrel and Joana’s story in each box to show how one small act of kindness can completely change someone’s life.
San Ynez Valley Star
After their wedding, Joana agreed to leave her home in the Philippines behind in favor of small-town life with Tyrel in Idaho. Their quiet country home was soon filled with the pitter patter of tiny feet, as not long after Joana gave birth to their first child, a baby boy named Harlann Jun Wolfe.
Marvin Quemado / Facebook
Even with lives made busy by work and parenting, Tyrel and Joana still make it a tradition to deliver shoe boxes every year. It might not seem like much, but as the unlikely couple can attest to: you never know what kind of good can come from a shoe box.