After their 3-year-old son, Emilio, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia—a form of blood cancer—in 1997, Richard and Diane Nares spent countless hours shuttling him back and forth between their home and Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego for treatments.
Road to Recovery is an American Cancer Society program that coordinates rides to treatment for cancer patients.
Mercy Medical Angels helps connect patients in need with free air or ground transportation to medical treatment.
Compass to Care schedules and pays for travel to childhood cancer treatments for families in need.
The couple felt fortunate to have a large family support system and flexible work schedules that allowed them to spend time with Emilio at the hospital, but they noticed many other families weren’t as lucky. Some struggled with basic needs, including transportation.
Emilio died in 2000 at age 5. In 2003, the Nares family started the Emilio Nares Foundation, making it their mission that no child miss a cancer treatment because of a lack of transportation. “We were looking for small ways to support families that didn’t have a safety net,” says Richard Nares. “It was clear right off the bat that transportation was key to taking some of the stress off.”
At first, Nares used his own car to drive three to four low-income families a week to their appointments at Rady Children’s. Now the foundation’s flagship program, Ride With Emilio, uses passenger vans to provide more than 4,000 free rides a year to over 200 pediatric oncology patients and their families in three Southern California counties getting treated at Rady Children’s or CHOC Children’s Hospital in Orange, California.
The hematology-oncology social workers at the hospitals refer families to the program. Paid drivers make several stops on each trip to shuttle patients and families to and from appointments. (Some families come from as far as 120 miles away.) Many of the families are Spanish-speaking. Along with reliable transportation, families often get an impromptu support group. “They catch up and check in with each other. They look forward to being in the van with other families,” says Nares.
Nares hopes to expand the Ride With Emilio program to at least two more hospitals on the West Coast in the next three to five years. “It’s very satisfying to know that we can make a difference with a very basic need,” he says.
Richard Nares offers advice on how to help parents of children who are diagnosed with cancer.
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