Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Group Helps Parents Whose Kids Are Sick; an Orange Park Native Founded Brave Kids to Provide to Information and Links to Resources

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Group Helps Parents Whose Kids Are Sick; an Orange Park Native Founded Brave Kids to Provide to Information and Links to Resources

Article excerpt

Byline: CARLY ROTHMAN

Kristen Fitzgerald's infant son Roman died in her arms of a rare degenerative neurological disorder. Six and a half years later, she lost her 4-year-old daughter Alexandra to the same illness.

Overwhelmed by her loss, the Orange Park native left her home in Florida for California to live near her brother.

But now Fitzgerald is back in the Jacksonville area helping other parents of special needs children through Brave Kids, the non-profit organization she founded six years ago today on June 9, 1999 -- her birthday and the anniversary of Alexandra's death.

"I'm just glad that I was able to turn my tragedy around to help other parents," Fitzgerald said.

Brave Kids runs an online resource directory through which parents can research their children's illnesses and find support services in their areas, including doctors, support groups and temporary housing near hospitals, among others. The directory can be used either in English or Spanish and features activities for kids.

To date Brave Kids has served about 800,000 children and their families nationwide, according to the organization.

Brave Kids also conducts outreach to educate communities about local resources for special needs children and has resource centers in several children's hospitals. These centers include computers, books and educational videos to help families do research while at the hospital.

"So many parents, as I was, are very confused and overwhelmed," Fitzgerald said. "I can't tell you how desperate a parent feels when they have no place to turn to help their child."

She remembers the strain of caring for her children while frantically researching their illnesses.

"I asked my pediatricians any questions that I had at the time," Fitzgerald said. "I didn't know of any other way to find information."

Oakland Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon is a longtime Brave Kids spokesman. His daughter Danielle was diagnosed as a toddler with Celiac disease, a condition that prevents her body from processing the wheat protein gluten.

"When your own child has a chronic or life-threatening illness, you are so desperate for help," Gannon said. …

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