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Faith, support buoy family in time of need

January 15, 2013

Heather and Mike Gehringer’s 16-month-old daughter Gia is facing 4-6 months of chemotherapy and surgery as treatment for a life-threatening illness diagnosed earlier this month. Temporarily, Gia and her mom must stay at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, then at nearby Ronald McDonald House, while Mike commutes whenever possible to join his family. Photo courtesy Heather and Mike Gehringer

A local family is feeling the power of prayer, as well as that of financial support, during a harrowing chapter in their young daughter’s life.
Heather and Mike Gehringer’s 16-month-old daughter, Gianna Joy was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness in December. In the weeks that followed, as young Gia began expensive medical treatments, the community – locally and globally – has rallied behind the couple and their daughter.
“There has been such overwhelming support from everyone,” said Mike. That support has come in the form of monetary donations made on the Fundly.com website. Support has also been shown spiritually, for example by a 75-person prayer night at The River Church in Bishop, two local pastors who visited the family in Los Angeles and “the emails, text messages and calls that we get, literally every day, from Bishop, all over the country, even from people around the world expressing love, kindness and support for our little girl.”
Earlier this month, Gia was diagnosed with saccrococcygeal teratoma and yolk sac tumor at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Heather and Gia will stay at Children’s Hospital while Gia undergoes chemotherapy followed by surgery and possibly more chemo over the next 4-6 months.
Since Heather must take an unpaid-leave-of-absence from her job as a Bishop Elementary School speech therapist, the family’s income is greatly compromised, explained Heather’s sister, Heidi Stabb, which is why she established a fundraising campaign for the Gehringers on Fundly.com.
“I started this fundraising page so that those who love them can offer support in a very real way, by making a donation,” Stabb says on the website. Fundly.com provides “an easy way for you all to donate. Thank you all in advance for your gifts of love to bless this family financially. It is one way we can all help them get through this difficult time.”
The Gehringers hope to raise $50,000 to help with medical and other expenses. As of noon Jan. 11, 129 donations totalling $15,640 were recorded. The site also states that there are 145 days left in the campaign to raise the remaining $34,360 needed to meet the family’s goal.
Aside from medical expenses, Mike explained, Heather and Gia will live at the Ronald McDonald House near Children’s Hospital once Gia is strong enough to leave the hospital. Though the daily $25 rate is very reasonable, Mike said, it adds up a month at a time. In addition to his travel expenses to and from Los Angeles, Gia needs “healthy, organic foods to boost her immune system,” explained Mike. The Gehringers also have the regular expenses of maintaining their Bishop household.
They couldn’t do it without the outpouring of concern and support from family, friends and even complete strangers, Mike reiterated. Since the family arrived at Children’s Hospital, said Mike, “so many people have been praying for us and we are very confident that Gia is going to be OK but right now we’re walking through the process.”
The process started late in 2012, when Heather began taking Gia to see local doctors. Heather insisted something was wrong but doctors said the child’s symptoms of increasing lethargy and constipation were common with the kind of tailbone cyst Gia has, that she could live her whole life with it, Mike explained.
However, following her “mother’s intuition,” explained Heather’s father, Howard Lehwald, the Gerhringers took the initiative and went to Children’s Hospital on their own on Dec. 17. There, doctors confirmed that the tailbone cyst was standard and suggested that Gia be given a different laxative than she had been taking for constipation. They didn’t run any tests or scans, said Mike, and the family went back home feeling very frustrated.
By Dec. 30, Gia had to be taken to NIH’s emergency department. There, Dr. Helena Black examined her and after consulting with Dr. Charlotte Helvie, she found an infection, said Heather. Given the case history, arrangements were immediately made for mother and daughter to fly out of Bishop Airport to Children’s Hospital. Mike followed behind by car because “only one parent is allowed on the plane,” he added.
At Burbank Airport they were met by a Children’s Hospital ambulance. A CT-scan, an MRI and more blood work were done. “They discovered a serious, malignant yolk sac tumor growing in her lower abdomen,” said Gia’s grandfather, Howard Lehwald. “We’re in the middle of a fight” now, aided by nurses, doctors and “compassionate social workers.”
Gia’s treatments began on Jan. 1 with the first of four courses of chemo. Each round is administered for five days, for 2-3 hours a day, with a two- to three-week recovery period between each course, Mike explained. “It’s killing the tumor and we’re thankful for that but it’s doing a number on her little body.” Children’s Hospital doctors hope to shrink the tumor during the first rounds of chemo, to be followed by surgery to remove any remaining tissue, explained Mike, to ensure that they “got it all.” Following that, there is a possibility that Gia will undergo another one or two rounds of chemo.
“We are just one of many, many families around here over the years who have faced similar circumstances. I’ve prayed with them,” said Lehwald. He and his wife Cindy are there “to encourage, support and love” Mike, Heather and Gia, whom Lehwald refers to as “our little beauty … We’re so grateful to the wonderful (people) who have walked a similar path and understand the depth of the journey and provide some sunlight.”
Although the Gehringers do appreciate all the financial support they have received and may receive in the future, “We are so thankful for every person who has prayed for us, showed support and encouraged us,” Mike said. “There’s an overwhelming peace that is on us right now and we know it’s only because of God and all of these people that we literally feel at peace.”
To make a donation to the Gerhringer family, visit www.fundly.com/gia-joy-s-treatment-and-recovery-fund.

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