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Everyday Heroes: Healing Hunter Foundation

Kierann (left) receives a Smile Sack from Lenore Thawley and her husband, Todd, at Doernbecher Children's Hospital. Kierann's brother, Caleb, is at right. The Thawleys started the nonprofit Healing Hunter Foundation after their 3-year-old son died of cancer. (KATU Photo)

For the past six years, a Portland couple who lost their son to cancer have been helping other families facing life-threatening illnesses.

Lenore Thawley, a Portland photographer, created the nonprofit Healing Hunter Foundation to help people going through hard times.

When Thawley comes through the doors at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, she delivers more than glow sticks and plush toys; instead, she tries to lighten every young patient’s mood and hopefully leave behind something to distract and amuse them during often lengthy hospital stays.

Thawley’s son, Hunter, was just 3 years old when he died in 2010. After losing their son, Thawley and her husband, Todd, started making special calls on patients and their families waiting for specialized care.

On this day, the couple visited Kierann, who is undergoing chemotherapy.

Her brother, Caleb, said it’s hard having his sister in the hospital.

“It’s not easy at all,” he said. “It’s real hard to see my sister in the hospital laying down real sick.”

With Doernbecher’s help, Thawley does her research.

“There were specific notes that she loved art, she loved music, she liked the beach,” said Thawley.

That little extra touch paid off. Kierann loved the bag full of goodies she received from the Thawleys.

“I’m really digging this glass bottle with lights in it,” she said. I think that’s awesome. Probably going to take this home with me.”

For her part, Thawley gets something back, too.

“We lost our little guy to AML leukemia when he was three and a half,” she said. “We lived in the hospital and fought for two and a half years. We know what it’s like to be here. So once Hunter passed, I needed to do something. I don’t want to have all this inside me and not be able to function on a daily basis, because I lost my child.”

Now an act of giving uplifts Thawley and those she visits.

“If their eyes light up, then we did something right,” she said.

On this day, only one thing seemed to dim Thawley’s optimism.

“I truly thought we would just be delivering a couple smile sacks, and then when she called me yesterday with the list of the children that were admitted, and it was a full house. That’s too many kids,” she said.

But not too many to stop Thawley’s kindness.

“As long as there are kids up here fighting, I’ll keep doing it,” she said.

Todd Thawley said the Healing Hunter Foundation first started delivering cupcakes to doctors and nurses at the hospital.

Today, the foundation gives 100 iPads to Portland children with cancer and creates a themed winter wonderland on Doernbecher’s cancer floor.

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