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Colleen Wogernese (far right) shares gift bags with nurses Andrea Christianson (far left) and Becky Guertin during her visit to BWH.
During Colleen Wogernese's brief visit to BWH last week, she left blankets and care packages for patients and family members living at the Thornton and Naumes House, hugged and thanked nurses in the Thoracic ICU and taped lottery tickets to Tower windows and elevators for passersby to find.
The Wisconsin woman's small acts of kindness, which she continued to perform all over the city on Feb. 28, were meant to honor her late husband, Chad, a former BWH patient who died from Ewing's sarcoma last fall. Wogernese says her husband was the most giving person she had ever met and hopes her deeds will set a good example for their two young sons.
In 2012, Chad was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a type of pediatric bone cancer that is extremely rare in adults. The cancer had metastasized to his lung, making it even more difficult to treat. After receiving care in Wisconsin, he came to BWH and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. During the young couple's time in Boston, a friend of a friend-Pathology resident Elizabeth Rinehart, MD-opened her home to them.
"At first, we spent months traveling back and forth to Boston, as Chad underwent surgeries to try to save his life," said Wogernese, 31, a speech therapist who graduated from Northeastern. "Elizabeth generously welcomed us even though we were strangers. The staff at BWH and Dana-Farber did everything they could to save Chad and extend his life, and we will be forever grateful."
Before Chad passed away, the Wogerneses founded Superheroes Fighting Cancer, a nonprofit aimed at parents contending with cancer, which helps cover medical bills, lodging while patients are undergoing treatment, gas, food assistance, child care and other essentials.
They also provide care packages for adults staying at lodging facilities, such as BWH's Thornton and Naumes House, while receiving treatment. Superheroes raised $5,000 in its first few months. Wogernese hopes to raise $40,000 this year through fundraisers and donations.
"Luckily for us, our life was filled with friends, family and strangers there to help us," said Wogernese. "My husband was a fighter and a giver. He so badly wanted to give back in some way to thank all the wonderful people who helped us."
The nonprofit has also provided a "wish" trip for two families so far. The Wogerneses were able to take their boys to Disney World two weeks before Chad died, and they wanted other families to have the same opportunity.
Wogernese's Feb. 28 visit with members of her husband's care team at BWH was an emotional time for all involved, but she says the visit provided some closure.
"Doing this work is helping me," she said. "Chad would be totally amazed; this is exactly what he wanted."
Learn more at superheroesfightingcancer.org.