A grandmother’s love
Grand Valley woman launches fundraising effort to help beloved granddaughters
Maybe it was a tea party, maybe a cocoa party, or Kool-Aid or lemonade. The beverage probably isn’t as important as the company and the settings — beautiful cups held daintily between thumb and index finger, pinky extended (as one does), and genial conversation made between a delightful gathering of stuffed animals and, hopefully, willing humans.
The cups and saucers in that case, if they existed beyond the young, vivid mind, probably were durable, plastic things, made fancier with a few flourishes of imagination.
Oh, the gracious living of a tea/cocoa/Kool-Aid/lemonade party! The respite from everyday cares, from the indignity of parentally mandated room cleaning and toy putting-away, from insufferable siblings and pets who won’t come when they are called.
Joy Klein doesn’t remember if that was the root of her love, necessarily, but she does remember seeing a porcelain cocoa set in an antique shop some time in her 20s and feeling instantly smitten — the delicacy and gently flowing lines, the painted pastel garden wreathing the cups and saucers and trailing like wisteria down the pitcher.
She couldn’t afford it then, not with three young boys and all the various expenses of parenthood. But 20 years later, with the boys grown and a few more dollars in her wallet, she saw a similar cocoa set, with six cups and saucers and a pitcher, at the former Jerry’s Antiques in Grand Junction.
It was antique Limoges porcelain and it was about the prettiest thing she’d ever seen. It was priced at a little more than $300 and this time she could afford it, so with something like reverence she took her French-made prize home. She decorated her Rifle kitchen — when she and her husband, Terry, lived in Rifle — around the colors in the cocoa set, dusty pinks and deeper maroons.
As is sometimes the case with these things, actually using the cocoa set was an exercise in anxious nerves, the cringing worry that something might break. That only happened a handful of times, but for more than 20 years the cocoa set has had a place of prominent display in her home in Rifle and then in Grand Junction when she and Terry moved 15 years ago.
So, when the news got worse and worse for her granddaughters, and she paced and wrung her hands, desperate to do something — anything! — to help them, she had a thought: Sell the cocoa set.
Yes, it was a prized possession and she loved it, but ultimately it was just a thing, just a dust-catcher on the shelf, and the girls… Oh, those girls! That’s love.
They’re the treasure. And in May, Haleigh and Aveahna Klein, who are 9 and 8, are traveling with their parents, Zach and Krissy, from Craig to New York City for spinal surgery.
“I had to do something,” Joy explained. “We can’t help them a lot financially, but I thought if I could raffle the cocoa set, maybe that would be something.”
Both of the girls have a Chiari malformation, in which brain tissue extends into the spinal canal, exacerbated by an Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (ehlers-danlos.com), which is an inherited connective tissue disorder. Their brothers, Aaron, 10, and Zavrick, 6, also have both conditions, but not to the serious degree that the girls do, Zach explained.
Aveahna began manifesting symptoms when she was 18 months old — mainly digestive issues — but wasn’t diagnosed with Chiari and Ehlers-Danlos until she was 5.
“We’d never heard of either one,” said Zach, 37, who works as an X-ray and CT ultrasound technician at The Memorial Hospital at Craig. “(Aveahna) would get sick when she would eat certain things, so we kept trying to figure that out and came to the conclusion that she had celiac, so we went gluten-free with her.”
Still, though, she was often sick and an MRI when she was 5 confirmed the Chiari. Haleigh has a higher tolerance for pain, Zach said, so he and Krissy weren’t aware for a long time that her condition was serious as well. Specialists at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children in Denver confirmed the severity of the girls’ conditions was growing.
Aveahna had decompression surgery in December 2015 to create space and relieve compression on her brain stem and spinal cord, requiring her to wear a neck brace since then, but it didn’t solve the problem. And Haleigh’s condition grew more serious, requiring her to quit the cheerleading she loved because of the risk to her brain and spinal cord.
Doctors in Denver recommended the family to Dr. Jeffrey Greenfield, a pediatric neurosurgeon at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City. After an appointment earlier this year, “he told us that if we don’t do this surgery, we might not have them in a year,” Zach said.
Haleigh’s decompression and occipital fusion surgery is scheduled for May 15, and Aveahna’s suboccipital fusion surgery is May 17. The girls, Zach and Krissy are flying to New York City on May 10, and doctors advised them to expect being in the city for a month.
“It’s just an expensive city,” Joy said, and since the Ronald McDonald House currently is being renovated, the family will stay at a hospital-owned hotel at $331 a night. Plus, and this is an enormous plus, the surgery is out of network for their health insurance.
“Usually, they require you to have a certain amount of money up front, but (Dr. Greenfield) said he would do the surgery regardless and we could figure out the money,” Zach said, adding that he and Krissy are still talking with their insurance provider. “Obviously we’re doing it. They’re our daughters.”
Which mirrors the thought Joy had, between the pacing and sometimes tears. She and Terry have 10 grandchildren, their life’s treasure, and there’s nothing they wouldn’t do, she said.
She wrung her hands and thought of possible fundraisers, never having considered or organized a fundraiser before. It should be unique, she thought, but also with the possibility of the winner getting something good. A raffle? She thought that might work.
But what? She and Terry have lived a moderate, middle-class life and aren’t big spenders. She thought of the cocoa set, and that happy day when she was able to afford it. She thought of those two blue-eyed girls, who live at the very core of her heart.
She called her son who lives in Grand Junction and works in IT, and asked him to help her set up a Facebook page for the raffle, with the option of buying a $10 ticket via PayPal, as well as a GoFundMe account.
“I don’t know anything about that,” she said with a laugh. “But I’m learning. This just has to happen pretty quick. I’m just hoping someone will love the cocoa set as much as I have.”