Christmas Day 2010 and the nine days that followed were days that Janey Patton Russell ’89 will never forget, describing them as the darkest time of her life. Her daughter, Megan, 10 at the time, had never been sick before. She had never even had an ear infection. Yet, she woke up on Christmas morning extremely ill with a fast heartbeat, a fever that could not be lowered and a gland the size of a grapefruit. Megan was admitted to Diamond Children’s Medical Center in Tucson, Ariz., where she spent six days in the intensive care unit and an additional three in the hospital before finally being released. Russell didn’t leave Megan’s side, sticking to her mantra of “I leave when Megan leaves.” She describes a night in the hospital when her husband, Mike, had gone to take their other daughter, Annie, home to bed.. It was after midnight and Russell was feeling particularly scared. She went into a dark room next to Megan’s and cried. She describes looking to her faith and telling God that she was open to whatever lesson it was He was trying to teach her. She was ready to give back.
Russell describes two things as being instrumental in Megan’s recovery: the rallying support of her community in Tucson and the special programming that the Diamond Children’s Medical Center had for the children. Russell remembers looking out of Megan’s hospital window and seeing a crowd of people gathered with “get well” signs for her. She also recalls that on the day Megan was released, they were not able to drive the car down their street because so many people had gathered to welcome them home. The support and love from their neighbors and fellow Tucson residents had buoyed the family as they endured those nine days in the hospital.
Equally important were the things that eased Megan’s spirit while there. Russell remembers aa harpist playing in the hallway at night, soothing the sick children to sleep. She also recalls a Labrador that routinely visited Megan. These therapeutic programs did wonders to entertain and distract her but were later eliminated due to the struggling economy.
One week after Megan returned home, with the family still celebrating her recovery, tragedy struck the city of Tucson when Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot a mere six miles from the Russell home. Once again, the city came together. So moved by the camaraderie and supportiveness of the Tucson community, Russell decided to start SHINE ON Tucson. Originally, the mission was to bring inspiration, sun and warmth in dark times to the city of Tucson by connecting people through volunteerism. But, Russell realized that, if she started a nonprofit and raised money, she could have a more specific mission. She decided that what she really wanted to do was to enable every family with a child at Diamond Children’s Medical Center to have what her family had in terms of support and programming.
In November, SHINE ON Tucson officially became a nonprofit and was able to begin accepting donations. Within two weeks, SHINE ON had raised enough money to bring back the harpist. The fundraising has continued and so has Russell’s determination. She sleeps with a notebook next to her bed for middle-of-the-night inspirations! The group’s work ranges from providing the patients with teddy bears and fuzzy socks to bringing in football stars from the University of Arizona to visit with the children. They also have been able to pay for meal passes to cover 26 weeks’ worth of food for needy families with children at the hospital. SHINEE ON already has raised $18,000 and is in the process of securing two grants. One will allow building aa “SHINE ON Room,”” which will be a combination of touch therapy, music therapy and pet therapy. Tithe other grant will provide three new monitors for the pediatric intensive care unit.
Russell credits Gilmour with providing her with the tools that have enabled her to give back the way she felt called to that night in the hospital. She believes the Academy gave her a solid foundation and value system. She says that she developed character at Gilmour, citing Mr. McCamley’s and Mrs. Forino’s belief in her when she didn’t believe in herself. Russell says, “They knew what I was capable of and wouldn’t accept anything less than my best.” She values the knowledge that her teachers instilled in her and cherishes the lifelong friendships she formed at Gilmour, namely the sister-like bond she shares with Kelly Conrad ’89. They visit twice a year and talk on the phone daily. Russell also recently visited with Sarah O’Neil Hannibal ’89 and enjoys the Gilmour friends she has reconnected with on Facebook.
Janey feels blessed that Megan made a full recovery and that something so positive came from the experience. She loves to spend time with her husband of 14 years, Mike, and her daughters Megan, now 12, and Annie, 9. In addition to devoting her time and talent to SHINE ON, Russell was recently selected to a three member panel of the national “Stand and Deliver Campaign” sponsored by the pharmaceutical company, Asclera. Their task is to identify women across the country who are making a difference in their communities. She also recently won More Magazine’s national beauty contest which asked, “Why are you more beautiful today than ever before?” Despite having done a significant amount of modeling in the past, Russell does feel more beautiful today than ever before because of the work she is doing to bring warmth to people during their darkest days. Shine On, Janey!
For more information about SHINE ON and the work they do, go to shineontucson.com
or visit their Facebook page.