'Some of these families that we met in the hospital had been there for months, and she’s giving them a little ray of hope and happiness.'
Tina Manguikian let the email sit in her drafts folder for 10 days before she sent it.
She had seen a cast member from one of her favorite guilty pleasures, reality television show “Southern Charm,” in a more serious light on a medical talk show. There Jennifer Snowden revealed that her baby boy, diagnosed in the womb, had a rare neural tube defect called encephalocele, in which the skull fails to close, causing a portion of the brain to protrude.
Snowden proceeded with her pregnancy, clinging to a sliver of hope from a doctor at MUSC, pediatric neurosurgeon Ramin Eskandari. Within minutes of baby Ascher’s birth on Sept. 12, 2016, Dr. Eskandari performed a surgery to return the sac of fluid and brain to Ascher’s skull and close the gap with a collagen-based patch.
Only a fragile membrane called the arachnoid layer protected Ascher’s brain at birth. “He had no skin, no dura, no bone,” Dr. Eskandari said. “You could see through it.”
But today Ascher is meeting every developmental milestone -- crawling, pulling up and saying “Dada” to his father, Lee Camden.
|Left to right: Lee Camden and Jennifer Snowden, parents to Ascher, join Reddy2Fight founder Tina Manguikian and MUSC Child Life Director Betsy McMillan for a care package presentation in the Child Life Atrium.|
Manguikian wanted to do something in Ascher’s honor, but she wrestled with contacting a celebrity. “I didn’t want to be one of those people,” she said.
But Manguikian is more than a fan. Two years ago she started Los Angeles-based nonprofit Reddy2Fight Foundation, which provides care packages to hospitalized children – high-quality toys for babies, small children and older kids that Manguikian researches, curates and prepares with hand-tied bows.
She asked Snowden if she could make a contribution in Ascher’s name. When Snowden wrote back within the half-hour, enthusiastic and grateful, Manguikian immediately got to work.
She recently shipped 100 packages from California to the MUSC Children’s Hospital and flew in to meet Snowden, Camden and Ascher before delivery.
“I was so shocked and honored that she would want to do something in Ascher’s honor and surprised by the humanity of a perfect stranger,” Snowden said. “It was a beautiful experience. Some of these families that we met in the hospital had been there for months, and she’s giving them a little ray of hope and happiness.”
Manguikian launched Reddy2Fight Foundation after a young cancer patient named Liam Reddy wound up in her social media news feed in 2014. She had donated to toy drives for 12 years at that point and sent a note to her contacts asking them to help Liam.
Manguikian collected money to help offset Liam’s medical bills that year. Even after her contribution, “I just couldn’t forget about Liam,” she said.
Every month she sent him a themed care package – arts and crafts, Curious George, Fourth of July – and received an email from his family about how much he anticipated and enjoyed her care packages. She decided, when she read their message, that she had to do something bigger.
She named her nonprofit in Liam’s honor, and Reddy2Fight Foundation achieved tax-exempt, charitable status in just three months. Manguikian has donated more than 800 care packages to children at hospitals across the country since October of 2015, and she still keeps in touch with Liam and his family.
With her visit to the MUSC Children’s Hospital, Manguikian had the chance to see her work in action. She watched as volunteers wheeled her gifts through the Child Life Atrium in red wagons ready for delivery.
“To actually see how it helps children and their families,” she said, “was tangible evidence that we can each make a meaningful difference in someone else’s life.”