September 10, 2017
From Wyoming Tribune Eagle
CHEYENNE – Teagan Gorney, a local 8-year-old, is having a good year. Her leukemia is in remission, and she’s having a large playhouse installed in her backyard in a few weeks.
Make-A-Wish Wyoming is coordinating a volunteer effort to create the playhouse for Teagan, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in early 2015.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation and its state subsidiaries grant wishes to children between the ages of 2½ and 17 who are diagnosed with life-threatening – but not necessarily terminal – conditions.
“I wanted it to be like a tiny house,” Teagan said.
Builders expect the playhouse to be just that, with a loft, a porch, two slides, stairs, a rope ladder, etc.
Erin Gorney, Teagan’s mother, said Teagan asked for a playhouse because she wanted something that would last.
“She has been watching those treehouse shows on TV. It’s kind of a cross between those tiny house shows and the treehouse shows,” Erin said. The Gorneys don’t have trees that can hold a treehouse, so Make-A-Wish is building a playhouse on stilts instead.
Morgan Legerski, chief executive officer of Make-A-Wish Wyoming, said the work to build and install the playhouse for Teagan is a full community effort involving around 50 people.
“It’s just amazing to see what people will do for our Wish kids. They’ve really gone above and beyond,” she said.
Local architect Jeremy Tuck designed the playhouse at no cost. Local contractors Paul Frauendienst and Larry Fodor recruited volunteers and managed the effort.
Many volunteers gathered Saturday at the Capital Lumber Company to build the playhouse.
The playhouse will be 202 square feet placed seven feet off the ground.
Knife River is donating the foundation materials. The playhouse will stand in concrete bases to protect it from the Wyoming wind. Legerski said they will bring the playhouse in with a crane.
“We’re hoping we can surprise Teagan with the install day. Maybe go spend the night at a friend’s house or something, we can get it all installed, and she would just come home to it installed,” Legerski said.
Fodor said the Wyoming Young Contractors Association, of which he is a member, is having a golf tournament Sept. 22 with a betting hole to raise money for Teagan to decorate the interior of the playhouse.
Legerski said Toys R Us, a national Make-A-Wish Foundation partner, also is giving Teagan a $400 gift card for her to stock the playhouse.
She plans to have the playhouse painted in rainbow colors with blue like the sky and yellow like the sun. “I’m great at drawing rainbows. We already even framed one that I cut out,” Teagan said.
She also plans to frame more of her own artwork to hang on the walls. Erin said Teagan likes to do crafts and currently is interested in bake-and-make sun catchers.
Teagan lives in Laramie County at the edge of Cheyenne, but is in third grade at Burns Elementary. She loves PE and recess, and she’s excited to sing in the school’s choir this year.
Erin said Teagan also loves to play doctor.
“She wants to be a doctor, and she wants to work at Children’s Hospital (Colorado),” Erin said. “She wants to work in cardiology and wants to help kids like what they did for her.”
Teagan first began showing signs of leukemia in the first few months of kindergarten. She complained of being tired, but Erin and her husband, Pete, chalked it up to the effects of school.
Teagan’s parents had her X-rayed at urgent care clinics around Christmas when she complained of shoulder pain, but the doctors found nothing.
“The school nurse kept calling and saying, ‘There is something wrong,’” Erin said, but doctors didn’t find anything. A month later, Teagan became much worse.
“Finally her liver and spleen enlarged – so much she looked like she was eight months pregnant.” She looked up a doctor in the Yellow Pages and Pete took Teagan on Jan. 26, 2015.
“They took one look at her and said, ‘Get to the ER right now,” Erin said. The emergency room doctors drew blood for testing.
“I just remember they came back in with masks on. And the first words out of their mouths were, ‘I’m so sorry.’ They said, ‘I’m so sorry. You need to get your daughter down to Children’s Hospital right away. We think your daughter has cancer.’”
Erin said all she could think about at that time were the children with cancer in all the commercials for St. Jude’s Research Hospital.
There wasn’t an ambulance to take Teagan, so her parents took her home, fed her dinner, packed some clothes and drove her to Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora, a Denver suburb.
“Good thing we got clothes because we were down there for two weeks,” Erin said.
It took a few days after Teagan was admitted before the Gorneys received a diagnosis.
“They kept saying, ‘We know you want answers. We know, but we can’t tell you. And we’re not going to tell you anything just to tell you something,’” Erin said.
Teagan was out of school for three months, but her life didn’t go back to normal when she returned. The Gorneys continued to drive to Aurora three times a week for treatment. Those trips eventually decreased.
Teagan had to take chemotherapy pills and insulin on a daily regimen. She had to eat and sleep on schedules for two years. At one point, she developed an infection in her back that Erin said she is thankful didn’t spread to Teagan’s bones.
“It was rough, but she made it through,” Erin said. “She finished her last dose of chemo in April. We were so excited about that. When she had the last chemo pill, the hospital gave her a cake, and it said, ‘No mo’ chemo.’”
Teagan is in remission now, but Erin said they have to wait five years before she is considered cured. She sees a doctor monthly for checkups.
Erin said she reached out to Make-A-Wish around November or December but wasn’t ready to move forward with a wish at the time.
“There were too many things to think about during treatment. I was afraid of missing doses or forgetting something,” she said.
“We had a separate calendar to keep track of it all. This is life or death – I want to make sure I actually gave her the medicine.”
Erin said she is amazed at the way the community came together to make Teagan’s dream come true.
“Cancer is something that is supposed to happen to somebody else – never to somebody that you know, much less your own kid,” she said.
“It’s great that Teagan is surviving and she’s not having a lot of ongoing problems. And it’s great that the community is doing something so wonderful for her.”
She said she hopes everyone who knows a child with a serious condition will reach out to Make-A-Wish.
“A lot of people think, ‘My child is one of the lucky ones, so I’m not going to bother people with a wish.’ The child deserves it,” Erin said.
“People are out there more than willing to do things for people, and that’s the special part – seeing the community come together.”