MARS — Austin Rath got a special delivery this week as he celebrated his 14th birthday.
The Mars resident received an Amazon gift card from the Casey Cares Foundation, an organization that has already had a major impact on his life.
The Casey Cares Foundation is a nonprofit organization that helps critically ill children to participate in events that they otherwise may not be able to.
Austin has Hirschsprung's Disease, a condition that affects the large intestine and causes digestion issues. According to Austin's mother, Jennifer Rath, Austin is dependent on IV nutrition and hydration. He is hooked up to an IV 20 hours a day and must have near constant supervision.
Trips to the hospital are frequent, including any time a fever spikes. Jennifer said Austin wasn't expected to live past the age of 6.
Now 13, Austin and his family have taken full advantage of what has been offered, participating in 15 activities since March 2016. This includes everything from movies to amusement park and zoo trips as well as Marvel Live and Monster Jam and a trip to the Great Wolf Lodge in the Poconos.
According to Jennifer, Austin's favorite experience was going behind the scenes at a Pittsburgh Pirates game with the umpires. He got to see the preparation for the game, and had a chance to meet some of the players on the field.
On his birthday, May 23, Austin was given the gift card to use however he wishes. He was the 6,403rd child to receive a birthday present from the organization.
“Our birthday program is especially important to us because we know how critical each birthday is to children who are fighting for their lives every day,” said Casey Cares founder and executive director Casey Baynes.
For Jennifer, the organization has been a “huge help.” A single mother of four, she said the program allows not only Austin to experience new things, but also his siblings.
“Siblings tend to be forgotten, but this program is really about helping families make happy memories despite the challenges they're going through,” she said. “It's really kind of a bright light in our life.”
The program has also provided unexpected benefits.
Jennifer said the “silver lining” of the challenges the family has gone through has been her children seeing that there are people in the world who want to help.
“I think organizations like Casey Cares taught us that no matter what you're going through, there's always a way to give back to others,” she said.
She said Austin has been inspired by the generosity, often spending his time packing bags and knitting hats for the homeless. Her other children recently offered their help to neighbors by cleaning up their yards and doing lawn work. She said the children have learned that even if giving financially isn't an option, one's time is a great way to give back.
“No matter your life challenges, you can be a blessing,” she said.