Webb City couple works to help families with medical needs after Joplin tornado

Sunday, June 26, 2011 | 4:09 p.m. CDT

WEBB CITY — Four years ago, doctors gave 5-year-old Colton Henkle a less than 1-percent chance of recovery after a near drowning.

It was nothing short of miraculous, the doctors told the Joplin Globe in January 2008, that after a 12-day stay in the pediatric intensive care unit at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa, Okla., Colton made a full recovery with no brain damage.

His parents, Cris and John Henkle, clearly remember the support — financially and emotionally — they received from Children's Miracle Network during that time.

"They called us immediately and asked if there was anything they could do to help," said Cris Henkle. "We were fairly new business owners, self-employed with insurance that didn't cover a lot, and they steered us to resources that could help us."

It is because of that, she said, that she and her husband have some idea as to what parents of children injured in the Joplin tornado are going through.

"There were a lot of kids flown out of (Joplin)," Cris Henkle said. "Parents are having to travel back and forth to hospitals in other towns, and that means gas and lodging and eventually, once they return home, long-term care and prescriptions. There will be so many bills for those people, so many bills."

For the past five years, the Henkles have owned Henkle Ace Hardware at 1201 S. Madison St. in Webb City. Ace Hardware is a national sponsor of Children's Miracle Network.

When the Henkles received two letters from Children's Miracle Network in one week requesting help with local funding, they saw it as a chance to pay forward the help they had received.

They have kicked off a fundraiser for Children's Miracle Network by seeking donations from area businesses, friends and family members. In return, they will supply those who donate with what they see as a symbol of remembrance and hope.

"We're offering them luminaries, and we'll light them on July 9," said Cris Henkle. "We'll light one for every dollar we raise. I would love to have them lit all the way up Range Line to 20th. That may be a little ambitious, but I'm counting on peer pressure."

She was referring to luminarias, which are small paper lanterns, each made with a candle set into sand inside a paper bag. Often associated with Christmas Eve, the lights typically are arranged in rows or along roadsides to create large displays.

On a recent afternoon, the Henkles had received money from nearby Taco Gringo, Papa John's, Quiznos, First Choice Health Care and The Medicine Shoppe.

Kathy Watson, a supervisor for Children's Miracle Network hospitals including Freeman Health System, said all money raised by the Henkles will be spent locally.

"A lot of children were treated here at Freeman, but we also sent a lot of kids away," she said. "One boy is still at Children's Mercy in Kansas City. Those families (need) help with transportation and lodging while their children are recovering."

Other children in the area who were not injured by the tornado also need help, Watson said, as a result of the storm.

"Those children may have short-term or long-term illnesses, but the family lost their homes or jobs in the tornado," she said. "Families want to be with their kids when they're hurt or ill, but it's an added expense."

Watson said Children's Miracle Network just helped a 3-year-old boy who, along with his mother and father, was injured in the tornado.

"He had severe injuries to his foot and needed a wheelchair, but his provider said it would take 45 days to make it happen," she said. "That's not acceptable. He needed it the minute he was released, and we were able to make that happen. Something (as) simple as getting a child a wheelchair makes a huge difference for that family."

Cris Henkle said she wanted to plan the luminaria event close to the Fourth of July because she assumes there will be little, if any, local Independence Day celebration this year.

"It will be something for people to do, and we wanted to do something for hope," she said. "We think a path up Range Line would not disregard the victims, but would help people look forward."

If the project is met with a positive response, the candles could extend beyond Range Line — perhaps necessitating a map for those who want to drive through the displays.

"If all goes well, we might even have a ceremony of some sort, might have one of the kids who is a Joplin tornado survivor light the first one," Cris Henkle said. "We'll just see how many people we can get involved."

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