Life Lessons: Meg McElwain’s son Mitchell was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia in 2012, when he was 3 months old, and he died just after his second birthday in early 2014. Within a few months of his diagnosis, McElwain, a longtime marketing professional, started Mitchell’s Fund to help other families of critically ill children.
At first, Mitchell’s Fund operated under the Novant Health Foundation and concentrated on helping families with day-to-day expenses. But in 2019, McElwain established it as a separate nonprofit, and its mission gradually evolved to fund counseling for children with terminal or life-threatening illnesses and their families. Through her grief, and long before Mitchell’s death, McElwain did something else remarkable: She shared her and her family’s experience through social media and conversation to “pull back the curtain” on the reality of pediatric terminal illness. She hoped her openness would let people who have suffered similar losses know that others in the community shared and understood their pain.
On Feb. 27, which would have been Mitchell’s 10th birthday, McElwain and Mitchell’s Fund board members plan to officially open a counseling center for the children the organization serves. Called Mitchell’s House, it will provide therapeutic and mental health support for siblings of terminally ill children. Medical crises inflict damage on family members, too; 20% to 30% of parents and 15% to 25% of children and siblings endure persistent traumatic stress reactions that impair their ability to function, according to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.