You’d never know it by looking at her, but 3-year-old Mazie has had a long, rough road. “On paper, on a medical chart, she’s a medical miracle,” says her mom, Alicia Mumford of Mesa. “She shouldn’t be with us right now.”
And yet, Mumford says, “She’s pure joy.”
Mazie wants to spread that joy around a bit this month as Valentine’s Day, the holiday of the heart, reminds us all what’s really important in life.
Spoiler alert: It’s not flowers, candy, cards or jewelry. Mazie, and those who love her, have a better idea in mind: a virtual video greeting from Mazie.
Your donation (as small as $5, the price of most greeting cards) will send a heartwarming smile and some heartfelt giggles from this little charmer — while also benefiting Phoenix-based Ryan House, which provides pediatric respite and end-of-life care to Arizona’s most medically fragile children and their families.
Your Valentine will receive an email of Mazie’s video greeting on Sunday, Feb. 14, along with the knowledge that your expression of love will support Ryan House in its mission to provide quality of life and compassionate care to children and families for whom one more day of smiles is precious indeed.
“I love taking care of Mazie. She’s my bucket filler,” Mumford says. “That smile can just completely lighten my day, turn any bad day into a good day.”
Mazie was born in prison and quickly rushed to hospital. She’d had a stroke in utero. Her lungs were failing. She was constantly vomiting. Her situation was so dire, she was put on life support and given a 3 percent chance of survival. A Do Not Resuscitate order was written.
She beat the odds, though it took spending her entire first year in the hospital.
Alicia and Doug Mumford were licensed foster parents who had already welcomed two medically fragile children into their family. When they “got the call,” they went to the hospital for overnight “nesting” and training for her medical care, then took Mazie home. She was so tiny, she looked like a newborn.
“Within the first three days she almost died on me,” Mumford says. “I’ll never forget it. Her trache (tracheostomy tube) had come out. She has pulmonary hypertension so she’ll clamp down, and you can’t get the trache back in. I’d never seen this. She turned blue, then gray… I told 9-1-1, ‘She’s gone, she’s gone, she’s gone.’ By the grace of God, the trache finally went in, and we went to ER.”
Mazie remains ventilator-dependent. She must be fed intravenously because she can’t tolerate any food in her stomach. (Her body still produces gastric juices, so she also has a gastrostomy tube to release the acid buildup outside of her body.) She has bleeding issues. The lining of her trachea is irritated. She’s on high doses of prednisone (a steroid) and antibiotics. She has kidney disease. Mumford could go on, but she prefers to focus on what Mazie can do, what Mazie can contribute to her family and her community.
“She was given three years to live,” Mumford says. “No one thought she would stand, walk, or play. She does it all. She is full of life. She has desires, she interacts with people, she loves to be held, snuggled. She loves her daddy. She loves to play dinosaurs with her daddy. I love her hugs — she gives the best hugs.”
The Mumfords were fans of Ryan House well before Mazie joined their family. They had already adopted — and lost — two other medically fragile children.
“I could go on for hours about what Ryan House has done for our family,” Mumford says.
Their first, Gavin, was with them for 4½ years before he died. “It was one of the hardest things our family has ever endured, but also one of the biggest blessings.
“Gavin went to school, he went to Disneyland, he knew Mom and Dad. He would take my hand, anybody’s hand, connect it to another person’s hand, and insist we clap. He did that to everyone he met.
“Gavin is the one who started us on the path of taking kids like Mazie. And Ryan House was there from the very beginning, at the top of our team, providing respite and emotional support. They are family for us. When Gavin passed, they were angels. They held our hands, they didn’t leave our sides, they let us be there with our family. They fed us, took care of us — they were with us on that journey.”
Ryan House was there again when the Mumfords took in Sierra, a 14-year-old who had no cognitive function because of severe head trauma she endured as a baby. Sierra suffered horrific grand mal seizures, and was only with the family a year before she died. The Mumfords take comfort in know that year was full of love, attention and the affections of the Mumfords’ hairless cat, who rarely left Sierra’s side.
The Mumfords have two biological children and over the years have fostered nearly 50 children and teens, 11 of whom they adopted.
“You’re lucky in your lifetime if you’re able to find your calling,” Mumford says. “We’re Christians; we very much believe every call we get is a call from God.”
The Valentine’s Day project
As of this writing, neither the Mumfords not Ryan House Executive Director Tracy Leonard-Warner had seen the Valentine’s Day greeting Community Relations & Volunteer Coordinator Mackenzie George recorded with Mazie a few weeks ago.
“Mackenzie keeps pushing us that video/social is where we need to be,” Leonard-Warner says. “And I’m biased, but I do think we have the cutest kids around. It happened to help that we have this adorable child who loves pink, is so photogenic, and has an amazing family willing to share their story with anyone who will listen. They are so passionate about these kids, and the support they get from Ryan House.”
The Mumfords had come to back to Ryan House about a year after Gavin died, and “talked about the fact that they had decided to adopt more [medically fragile] kids because of Ryan House.” It is gratifying to the whole team to know “not only are we helping kids and families with children who were born to them, but also these families who are willing to open their hearts, home, and love to kids who weren’t born to them.”
How do these parents do it?
“It takes a toll on your heart and mind,” Alicia admits. “But there’s a reason I love these hospice kids. Nowhere do you find love that is as unconditional. So this is probably more for me than it is for them. I love, love, love taking care of them. And when I’m doubtful, my husband is the one who says, ‘We can do it.’ ”
And Ryan House is there to help.