Family starts pumpkin farm event to help boy needing surgery
A family pumpkin patch in Montello has become a place where not only can you find that perfect pumpkin, but also hope, and a reminder to be kind and generous to others.
Ashley and James Henke have been inviting friends and strangers alike to their farm for the past six years.
In 2010, the Henkes were expecting their first baby, but they weren’t expecting this.
“He was born with microtia accretia, which is no ears and no canals on both sides,” Ashley Henke said. “It would be like if you took your hands and plugged your ears really, really tight.”
The Henkes discovered they could help their son, but that meant multiple trips to California for weeks at a time to surgically implant new canals and ears.
“They take this medical plastic form, they take that, they put skin grafts over that and attach it to his head so they’re his own ears. They’re like brand new ears. It’s amazing,” Ashley Henke said. “The surgery wasn’t in our network and they don’t cover ears. It’s not a necessary thing.”
So they started Brody’s Harvest for Hearing, a pick-your-own pumpkin and hayride fundraiser on their farm, with the money going toward travel and food expenses and out-of-pocket medical bills.
“We were just blown away with all the people that came out. People we knew, people we didn’t even know. It just melted our hears to see all the people come and support our little Brody,” Ashley Henke said.
Three years of fundraising got Brody his new ears in 2013. Now he can hear just fine. But the Henkes didn’t stop their fundraiser there.
“We wanted to teach our kids, especially Brody, all the people came out and helped him, we can help someone else, do something for someone else is a good way to pay it forward,” Ashley Henke said.
This year, the fundraiser is helping a spunky 2-year-old named Lilah.
Lilah was diagnosed with mucopolysacridosis (MPS), a rare disease affecting the body, 11 months ago.
Lilah has type 6 of MPS, which is the best diagnosis one could get since it doesn’t affect her brain, but does affect the rest of her body.
Lilah’s mom, Kimber Heiling, said only one in 225,000 children are born with MPS.
With no known cure, there’s only one treatment available for Lilah– an enzyme replacement therapy.
“So we go to the Children’s Hospital every Thursday and she gets an IV medication through a port in her chest,” Heiling said. “We don’t know what life is going to be like for her.”
What they do know is aside from her weekly trips to Milwaukee, her future will be made up of seemingly endless doctors appointments.
But more help has come Lilah’s way when the Henkes selected her to be the beneficiary of this year’s fundraiser, which is now called “Harvest for Hearing.” It’s the third year under the new name but with the same goal– helping children with special needs. That help was greatly welcomed.
“It’s very hard to ask for help because you want to be strong for your children and you want to feel like you have everything that they need and that you’re brave enough for them,” Heiling said. “And I found support in family and other family members.”
Heiling cried as she talked about the struggle Lilah doesn’t know isn’t normal.
“She doesn’t know everybody doesn’t go to the hospital every week, and I spend a lot of time crying and telling her that I was sorry and I don’t need to do that because she’s amazing and she’s really strong,” Heiling said. “I hope she faces every hurdle in her life with as much positivity as she has at 2 years old.”
The fundraiser was held last weekend on the Henke’s farm; more than 1,200 people attended. Money is still pouring in to support Lilah and her family, who welcomed another child into their home on Monday.
Saturday also marked Lilah’s second birthday; at the fundraiser people gathered and sang “Happy birthday” as she was presented her cake.
With a field full of pumpkins on a beautiful fall day, more than hope is being harvested, but also wisdom from another mom who knows and understands.
“Whatever you can do, live generously, be happy in your life, and help others who aren’t as fortunate as you,” Ashley Henke said. “And do something good, for sure.”
If you know someone who is Doing Something Good, nominate them on the Do Something Good webpage.