But perhaps we should back up to the start, to the first foreboding sign that life was about to take a dark turn.
It started on Friday the 13th.
It was April 2012, and Doreen lived in a beautiful single-family home with her two sons, having recently graduated from school with her medical assistant certification. Things were going well; she was happy. But that day, the tides of her life would shift, a giant wave set to destroy everything in its path.
Doreen’s mom, the only person of support in her life, died unexpectedly. It was a crushing blow, too much for Doreen to handle mentally or emotionally, and she suffered a mental break.
Less than three months later, she was pregnant with her third child and first daughter. At just four weeks into her pregnancy, she began experiencing horrific abuse from the baby’s father.
“I had to beg him for prenatal treatment, and at my appointments when they asked if I was safe at home, he was always in the room with me,” Doreen said.
She continued enduring the unthinkable until her daughter’s birth. “When Olivia was born, there was no celebration, no balloons, no family rushing in from the waiting room. Nothing.”
Doreen knew pretty quickly that something was wrong with her baby, and that’s when specialists began walking into the room. Olivia was first diagnosed with ASD - a hole in her heart. Doreen also told us how her daughter was completely inconsolable from the moment she entered the world. She didn’t want to be held or swaddled and cried incessantly, never sleeping for more than three hours at a time for months that turned to years.
“It was so atypical that we saw a sleep specialist who diagnosed her with an unnamed sleep disorder and put her on medication around the age of two,” said Doreen.
Not long after, Olivia began having seizures, and Doreen rushed her to the neurologist who remarked that she “looked perfect” but would run some tests to prove there was nothing wrong with her. He later called and apologized, confirming that Olivia had epilepsy associated with another rare condition called Periventricular Nodular Heterotopia (PVNH).
It was almost more than Doreen could handle – until everything came to a head one fateful day a little more than two years ago.
On that morning, Doreen’s abuser and father of Olivia and her youngest daughter, ripped them from all that they knew and drove them against their will 1,000 miles south of their home.
“We were in a 400-square-foot, pay-by-the-week hotel room for three months,” Doreen shared. “I managed to befriend the neighbor next door who was a young mom in her 20s. I told her that I would give her every possession I owned if she could get us a ride to a domestic violence shelter. I gave every piece of jewelry I had to this woman and she paid for an Uber ride to Safe Haven, a domestic violence shelter nearby."
“Once we arrived, they connected me with an organization that provides transportation to families in crisis like ours. Because of Olivia’s medical conditions, they decided to pay for airplane tickets instead of the usual bus or train fare to fly us back home to Illinois.”
Doreen’s abuser would later be incarcerated, but a new danger would emerge. Because they were kidnapped for such an extended time, no one had been watching the house or making mortgage payments.
Members of her own extended family ransacked the home, taking everything inside - even the ashes of Doreen’s mother. The house was foreclosed on, leaving this single mom and her children, one of whom had complex medical needs, with absolutely nothing and nowhere to go.
In Greek mythology, there’s a story of an immortal bird called the phoenix that cyclically regenerates or is otherwise born again. It obtains new life by rising from the ashes.
Doreen and her family have a lot in common with the phoenix. Over and over again, they faced unimaginable tragedies and heartache. And yet every time they were destroyed by their circumstances, they came back stronger and with renewed purpose. A phoenix rising.
It started with baby steps. First, Doreen was able to get a 14-year-old SUV that served two purposes: 1) It could transport her family to and from Olivia’s many doctors’ appointments, and 2) It could serve as a backup plan to keep them from sleeping on the ground.
At one point, Doreen was forced to eat leftovers from her daughter’s hospital tray to be able to save enough cash to pay for parking so she could be with Olivia. It was enough to keep anyone down, but not Doreen. Not her girls. They kept getting up, kept rising.
Through sheer will and determination, Doreen has carried them into a comfortable townhouse, letting their SUV become just a vehicle again and not a backup home. And while the girls finally have their own bedrooms and space, they still crowd into bed with Doreen each night. “They hate sleeping alone,” she told us.
Though the challenges have continued - just last week, Olivia was also diagnosed with autism - they continue to persevere. Olivia loves to do art and be as active as possible. Her little sister is one of her best friends. And though she still requires near-constant supervision, she’s making progress and working hard.
They’ve proven that nothing is stronger than they are.
While their strength is astonishing, we thought it was time for them to relax and let someone else do the work for a bit.
With the help of our community of donors, we first funded a new sensory room for Olivia, complete with weighted blankets, sensory pad, light machine, compression swing, and more. All the things she would need to continue feeling safe and comfortable at home. All the things she would need to continue rising.
But after our emotional and heartwrenching call with Doreen, we saw an even bigger need. That SUV is now 16 years old and a gas-guzzling machine. Olivia frequents the doctor so much that Doreen is forced to cut back on most fun extracurriculars just to make sure she has enough gas money.
Going to the zoo, the park, the library…it just isn’t possible when you’re rationing gas for more critical needs.
Chive Charities Executive Director Brian Mercedes heard about this family’s plight and dug deep to see what else could be possible. When he came back, it was with the news that we would be able to fund the purchase of a new, smaller SUV for Doreen and the girls plus a custom, Convaid special needs carseat for Olivia's safe transportation (A special thansk to the team at Tadpole Adaptive for the amazing discount).
Doreen’s reaction says it all:
“She’s seen by you. She’s not seen by many people. We are the ignored, the silent, the one people turn their backs on. So thank you for seeing us. Thank you for seeing our need. We are so grateful to all of you!”
Our Chive Charities community has long been in the business of going above and beyond. This time, it was turning the gift of a sensory room into so much more. It was changing three lives for the better at a total impact of $40,000. To the ones who gave, it probably didn’t seem like much. To the ones who received, it was everything.
That’s the beauty of this community. If you’ve been knocked down, if you’re doing all that you can to keep getting back up, this family of supporters has your back. They’ll grab your hand and lift you. If you’ve been ignored or felt forgotten, our donors will see you. They’ll look for ways to ease the burden.
If you’ve exhausted all of your resources, watched doors slam in your face, forced to pull yourself from the ashes and dust yourself off over and over again just like Doreen and her girls…well, they’ll stop at nothing to be there for you. Nothing. DONATE HERE.
Editor’s Note: Everyone deserves relationships free from domestic violence. If you need additional help or resources for you or someone you know, please visit TheHotline.org or call 1-800-799-SAFE at any time of the day or night.