By Ukee Washington
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Philadelphia is one of the only places in the country with a center for proton therapy. That’s a form of radiation used to treat cancer. Patients travel from across the country to undergo proton therapy through Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, often staying in Philadelphia for weeks or months at considerable expense. Now someone’s there to help.
When Ella Walsh was a toddler, her left eye kept drooping. No doctor could find anything wrong until the first day of school in 2009.
“I took a picture of Ella,” said Ella’s mother Audrey Walsh. “It was a digital camera, and I could see something under the skin of her eye. And in that moment, you know, my world just crashed, because I knew.”
It was a tumor, rhabdomyosarcoma. Doctors recommended a highly specialized treatment, proton therapy, but back then the Walsh family had to leave Pennsylvania to get it.
“We were told to pack up our bags and go to Boston, up to Mass General,” said Joe Walsh, Ella’s father.
But where would they live? Ella’s family was lucky. An organization put them up in a nearby hotel for free.
“It worked out, and we incurred zero cost,” said Audrey.
Ella was declared disease-free. By then, Philadelphia’s Roberts Proton Therapy Center had opened.
“It’s tough on families, it’s tough on the children too. You’re taking them out of their comfort zone,” said Dr. Robert Lustig of the
Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
The Walsh family was inspired to start Ella’s Retreat to help families coming here.
“Our mission is to offer them a choice at no cost to stay in a suite,” said Joe.
The Murdocks moved from Northern Virginia to Philadelphia with 7-year-old Michael as he undergoes proton therapy.
Chip Murdock, Michael’s father, said, “Ella’s Retreat was able to get us a place and take care of all the logistics for us. That’s one less thing that we had to do.”
Last Month, Audrey Walsh got to meet the Murdocks. They hope to help many more.
Ella’s Retreat has helped six families so far. It costs between $4800 and $9600 dollars to help a family depending on the length of the stay.
For information on Ella’s Retreat, visit www.ellasretreat.org.