Jimmy and Betty Kemp were exhausted. They sat on a bench outside the pediatric intensive care unit at Covenant Children’s Hospital in Lubbock, Texas, and kept a watchful eye on their 2-month-old foster son, Matthew.* In 14 years of being foster parents, they had never gone through such an extreme medical emergency with one of their children.
Matthew was the Kemp’s 27th foster child, and after just a few days in their home, Betty and Jimmy realized something was wrong. Jimmy was sitting in his favorite recliner, rocking Matthew when he noticed Matthew struggling to breathe. Suddenly he became lethargic and lifeless. Scared, Jimmy and Betty rushed him to the clinic near their home in Levelland. The next day, Matthew was admitted to Covenant Children’s Hospital in Lubbock where Matthew was diagnosed with RSV and Rhinovirus.
Matthew was incubated, had a breathing tube, a feeding tube and was sedated. The medical staff told the Kemps they expected him to be in the hospital for one month. There wasn’t much Jimmy and Betty could do but watch and pray. They didn’t want to leave his side. They knew Matthew had already gone through so much as a foster child being removed from his home, and they wanted to make sure he knew someone cared for him.
But they also were needed at home. Though Jimmy and Betty are both retired, their 12-year-old daughter, who they adopted through the Buckner International foster-to-adopt program, needed to be cared for as well. Some of Betty and Jimmy’s adult children lived nearby and helped when they could, but they quickly realized they could not be at Matthew’s side 24 hours a day and give proper care for their daughter. They needed help, and Buckner stepped up to support them.
Buckner arranged to have volunteers sit with Matthew whenever the Kemps could not, ensuring there was someone with Matthew around the clock while he was in the hospital. Jimmy and Betty would sit with Matthew from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. A Buckner volunteer would relieve them until a contracted caretaker showed up at 10 p.m. to watch him.
“We know the Kemps are an older family with a teenager and we knew Matthew needed someone there. We wanted to help out as much as we could,” said Cristian Garcia, Buckner director of foster care and adoption in Lubbock. “We had the community rally, and it was great for Matthew. Children feel presence and knowing somebody from the community is taking time to be with you is amazing. I think he felt it.”
Around the clock, someone was there for Matthew. While Matthew was incubated, the volunteers could not touch him, but they could sit nearby, talk to him and pray. Kylie Zweifel, a college student at Texas Tech University, learned about the opportunity to spend time with Matthew and felt it was something she needed to do.
“When I got the email, I prayed on it and I really felt that it was something I was meant to do,” she said. “I didn’t have anything on the day they needed so I figured I should give that time to someone else. And it was heartwarming to watch ... because everyone had been there every day and seeing how they and the nurses really cared for him. It was really cool for Matthew to be surrounded by so many godly people.”
After one week, the hospital staff was able to remove the tubes, and the Kemps and volunteers were able to hold and comfort Matthew. “We’re mighty lucky we had Buckner supporting us,” Betty said. “Anything we’ve ever done, they have supported us, but this really showed you how much they support you. There was some really special people there. I didn’t meet anyone who didn’t act as though they were glad to see us, glad to be there.”
“And we were sure glad to see them,” Jimmy added. “They really helped us a lot and they made a lot of difference. Buckner has been there with Matthew and for him. We’re really proud to be associated with Buckner.”
Even the hospital staff were there to help the Kemps. One nurse, Stephanie Trevino, a graduate of Buckner Family Pathways in Amarillo, was able to help care for Matthew.
“She’s a real special girl,” Betty said about Trevino.
“Matthew really liked her too,” Jimmy added. “She was really good to us and would tell us what was going on and what she was doing. When she was off, we didn’t like it. So we really liked her being there.”
Betty felt the constant care for Matthew truly helped him improve. After three weeks in the hospital, Matthew was released to go home, much earlier than anticipated.
“People don’t realize how much impact they had on Matthew,” Garcia said. “They saw their time there as just time. The reality of it is, it’s not. The community showed that they cared and to me that’s huge and vital to the work we do. And his recovery was supposed to take a month ended up taking a couple of weeks which is incredible.”
Just one month after his hospital stay, Matthew looks like a completely different child. He enthusiastically grabs for his bottle and gives a giant, warm smile at Jimmy as he talks to him from across the room. When on his play mat, he kicks his legs in glee and playfully reaches up to play with the hanging toys.
“At the end of the day, it’s about supporting Matthew and the Kemps,” Garcia said. “We had a whole troop rally around and do what they could for an indefinite amount of time, and it made a big impact for Matthew. Overall, doing things like this for foster families is just something we are meant to do. It’s a part of who we are and who we want to be. There’s nothing glamourous about it other than just making sure Matthew gets the best care.”
*Name changed to protect privacy.