CMN raises over $1M in yearlong fundraiser

Published on Sunday, 1 June 2014 22:58 - Written by FAITH HARPER fharper@tylerpaper.com

Four-year-old Madelyn Kate Bilberry likes to play dress up, run outside and play in the dirt, just like any other child her age.

Madelyn had a rough start to life. She was born at 37 weeks, with breathing problems. Once she quit breathing in her grandmother’s arms, her parents, Kathryn and Luke Bilberry, transferred her care to Mother Frances Hospital — a decision they believe changed the outcome of Madelyn’s story.

The family was one of countless to benefit from the Children’s Miracle Network and its partnership with Mother Frances. The nonprofit fundraises all year to help buy specialized equipment and training to help babies with serious trauma or illness stay in East Texas.

The organization celebrated a milestone, raising $1,035,408 during its 27th Children’s Miracle Network Celebration, which closed Sunday after a telethon on KYTX CBS19. Every dollar will stay in East Texas.

“The day she stopped breathing in my mom’s arms was a really hard day, but from the moment the transfer team arrived to pick her up, we knew she was in good hands,” Mrs. Bilberry said. “We had this overwhelming peace from God that she was going to be OK.”

The isolette, a mobile NICU unit used to transfer babies battling trauma or serious illness, was just one of the many pieces of equipment purchased through donations with the help of Children’s Miracle Network.

“From the start of her journey, we saw the hands of the money that was raised by the Children’s Miracle Network,” Mrs. Bilberry said. “We know that part of Madelyn’s story would have been drastically different without the money that stays right here in East Texas.”

Mrs. Bilberry now volunteers with the organization and chaired the telethon celebration this year. She is one of an army of volunteers who work all year to save lives.

“We would love to be able to write a $30,000 check, but we have a vivacious 4-year-old girl who is alive, well and thriving because of what has been done through (CMN),” she said. “That’s why we give back and that’s why we want to … do everything we can.”

The network started in 1987 with humble beginnings and earning $94,000 in its first year, director Robin Rowan said. She said fundraising efforts and the name recognition of the charity has come such a long way that the first telethon tote board had only six places.

The organization also smashed its previous record of $831,000 raised in 2013.

“We started the year of fundraising with a goal of $1,000,000, knowing that has not been accomplished very many times in Tyler, and the community came through in so many ways to make that happen,” she said.

Mrs. Rowan said it wasn’t one event that raised all the money, but a large collaborative effort by hundreds of people.

CMN held three radiothons on three different stations, including its first ever on a Spanish-only station. It hosted its first 5K and fun run in April, as well as its annual Miracles Begin with You event in January. Trinity Mother Frances employees also banded together to raise $20,000 for May Miracles Month.

It all ended on Sunday with a two-day telethon on KYTX CBS19 news, with a celebration of families who have benefited from CMN sharing their stories.

John Gaston, general manager of CBS 19, said he has been involved with the telethon since its beginning. The final televised fundraising drive has switched between KETK NBC56 and CBS19 throughout the years, but the cause remained in Gaston’s heart.

“The main thing that drives for us is whether it’s $1,000,000 or $100, every dime of it stays local …” he said. “It goes to improve the quality of healthcare to children. To me, that is redeeming, and that’s the reason we have been doing it so long. We have a lot of pride in ownership in the project.”