“A Respite at the Right Time”
If you’ve seen the animated movie, Shrek, you may know that Princess Fiona is beautiful, fun-loving, and very brave, having overcome some serious challenges while growing up. This must ring true for all girls named Fiona, as little miss Fiona Rice from Summerville, South Carolina sure proves it to be so!
Fiona was born in September 2009 in Guam, where her dad, Tighe, was stationed with the Air Force. Fiona’s parents and older sister, Finlee, were thrilled with this new little bundle of smiling joy that had entered their lives. At just one month old, Fiona began having severe fevers and doctors realized that she had meningitis. She was quickly treated and released from the hospital. But as the months passed, her parents noticed that she wasn’t quite hitting all the typical baby mile markers. An MRI scan showed that the meningitis had reached her brain and caused a loss of about 40% of brain tissue, resulting in brain damage and developmental delays.
With Fiona’s critical need for treatment, the family was immediately sent to Duke University Hospital in North Carolina, where Tighe could relocate to Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina. Fiona was diagnosed with SCID, Severe Combined Immune Deficiency, a condition that prevented her immune system from being strong enough to fight off infections like meningitis.
Doctors opted for a stem cell transplant, a type of bone marrow transplant that allows more flexibility in finding a good donor match. The Rice family lived near Duke for about a year during Fiona’s transplant and treatment. The Air Force allowed Tighe to take a few months’ leave at first, but he ultimately had to return to Charleston and would come up to visit on weekends. It was tough, so they all breathed a sigh of relief when the day came that they could live together under one roof.
When the Rice family heard about Believe In Tomorrow’s respite program and Military Initiative, they were thrilled at the opportunity! On New Years Day, they packed up their bags and headed north to the Believe In Tomorrow House on Wisp Mountain in Western Maryland. They didn’t know what to expect since the resort had gotten very little snow, but as they got closer to the house, it began snowing. And snowing. And it didn’t stop until 18 inches had blanketed the ground, the slopes, and the mountain home where the Rice family snuggled together by the fire on their first Believe In Tomorrow respite.
Fiona and Finlee had never seen snow before, having grown up in Guam and the Carolinas. As a result, there was a LOT on the family’s to do list for the week. They tried ice skating, which lasted all of 8 minutes, and ultimately nixed the idea of trying out skiing. Fiona enjoyed watching Alvin and the Chipmunks - her first movie in a theatre, swam for the first time in a public swimming pool at Wisp Resort, and huddled with her sister under layers of blankets during a very chilly horse-drawn sleigh ride. The family spent hours playing together inside and outside the house, went snow tubing, and enjoyed the shops and restaurants in the little town of Deep Creek.
Just two years old, Fiona is certainly a brave little princess who has never stopped smiling throughout everything that has happened. She is progressing very well and improving day by day, though still waiting to be cleared to attend preschool.As a military family, Katie reflected that the best way to get through everything was simply by putting one foot in front of the other and going through each obstacle one at a time. The whole family is extremely grateful for the Air Force having supported them throughout their entire journey, and they are looking forward to getting away on their next Believe In Tomorrow respite soon!