Maconaquah Middle School has partnered with Riley Children’s Foundation to host the Bear in the Chair program in honor of student Jayla Michael who recently underwent a kidney transplant.
Shortly after her first birthday, Michael was diagnosed with a genetic organ disease called nephropathic cystinosis which affects the kidneys, liver, and pancreas. Michael was started on daily medications to try to control the disease, but over the years her kidney functions have continually dropped. In 2017, it was decided that she would start dialysis, which she did for 28 months until her parents and doctors agreed to follow through with a kidney transplant. In October, Michael was gifted a new, functioning kidney by her own mother. Both Michael girls underwent surgery on Oct. 25, and as of today, Michael is doing great.
While Michael spends the next few months out of school recovering, there will be a special friend keeping her seat warm in the classroom. Riley Children’s Foundation’s philanthropic partners at Speedway Corporation fund a program called Bear in the Chair. The Bear in the Chair program is designed to help eliminate feelings of loneliness by maintaining a connection between children being treated at the hospital and their school. The organization sends a big teddy bear to the child’s school, and that bear sits at the child’s desk until they are able to return.
“When we were approached about the bear in the chair program we were very touched,” said Michael’s mother, Kylie Michael. “A lot of kids in seventh grade, or just kids who know Jayla in general, don’t fully understand what she has been through. When they presented the idea to us we thought it would be an amazing way to help her peers see how important it is as a child to not be forgotten about when you are not present. It has really lifted Jayla’s spirits, and she has smiled each time she has received pictures of her friends with the bear.”
Above their more than $1 million corporate gift to Riley Hospital, Speedway employees themselves support the Bear in the Chair initiative by donating their own money to the program. Riley Hospital staff also helps by donating time to facilitate FaceTime opportunities between the patient, her classmates, and the bear at school.
“When I found out they were going to do the bear in the chair I was really excited because I wanted all my friends to be able to think of me and think I was still there,” said Michael. “It has helped me because my fellow classmates will know why I wasn’t there and what I have went through instead of thinking I just wasn’t at school. It helps them understand what happened to me and why I had to be gone for so long.”
Maconaquah Middle School staff and teachers are anxious for Michael’s return but plan to enjoy her fuzzy substitute until she makes it back.
“We have been a Riley partner for several years through raising funds to support students like Jayla. It has been neat to see first hand how Riley supports its patients,” said Middle School Principal Craig Jernagan. “We are happy that she is recovering well and our students and teachers are eagerly awaiting Jaylas return to school.”