Christmas and the subsequent holidays can provide a fabulous opportunity to spend time with family and share in gift giving. But, for some military families the season can also bring sadness of having a loved one deployed or it could be a first Christmas after a loved one has died from either the war or illness.

I have very dear friends who lost their son in 2012 just before his 6th birthday. Ryan had AML, a type of leukemia. He was diagnosed in Germany where his father, a soldier, was stationed. After their devastating diagnosis, the family was shipped back to the USA for treatment. Ryan spent a lot of time at Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda, MD. In fact, the family spent nearly a year here while undergoing treatment.

During this time, the community came together to support him and his family. Ryan’s mother, Mikelle, started to share with others in the PICU and Oncology ward some of the gifts and toys that had been sent for Ryan. This forged an idea for Mikelle to start a non-profit foundation called Ryan’s Battle Buddies (RBB). RBB is a fantastic organization with a  mission to help children of military families that are fighting life threatening, long term or life long illnesses. 

Unfortunately Ryan lost his battle with AML, yet his legacy still lives on through RBB. Mikelle, her family, volunteers and friends come together to take donated toys, gift cards and good cheer to families that have children in the hospital, especially the Oncology ward at Walter Reed. 

This Christmas they gathered and decorated the ward with trees, garlands and festivites. It is a honor and pleasure to be able to be involved and see the look on the faces of the kids and staff when we arrive and take over. This is what makes the holidays special for all of us. It cannot take away the pain of not having a loved one with us at Christmas, but it can help with keeping with the spirit of christmas.

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