International House of Pancake employees Terry Young and Erik Taylor, from left, put customer donations into an incubator used to collect funds raised from patrons at the restaurant’s National Pancake Day fundraiser to benefit Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)
ALBANY — For many Albanians, Tuesday’s International House of Pancakes (IHOP) National Pancake Day fundraiser served as a way to donate to a worthy cause. For Andrea Gillan and her family, the day served as a reminder of how Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals helped two parents get through the hardest times of their lives.
In 1984 the Miracle Network was there when Andrea and her husband, Dan, now executive director of the Albany YMCA, lost their youngest child, 19-month-old Megan, to leukemia.
Four years later in 1988, the couple faced tragedy again when their oldest child, Heather, 7, also succumbed to the disease. Once again, the Miracle Network was there.
Both born with rare forms of the cancer, Megan and Heather, the couple’s only children at the time, spent their short lives undergoing treatment to battle the disease.
“They went through the whole thing, losing their hair, bone marrow transplants, the whole thing,” Andrea Gillan said Tuesday while standing in the IHOP lobby. “It was really hard. They both died on my birthday.”
Without the help of the Children’s Miracle Network, Gillan said she’s not sure that she and her husband could have gotten through those tough times.
“When you’re the person who’s going through something like that, sometimes you feel so alone,” Gillan said. “But we survived it. Could we have survived without the Miracle Network? I’m going to say no. What they did was they let the community know what we were going through.”
Through that exposure, she said, the family received an outpouring of financial support in the form of private donations to help with living and medical expenses, as well as spiritual support in the form of letters and prayers.
“The Miracle Network increased networking for us that led us to other support — spiritual and financial,” Gillan said. “Many people sent private donations and others that couldn’t give sent us letters; we’ve got boxes of letters that were sent to us.
“And they sent prayers; we received so many prayers. It was an inspiration to us. It let us know that we were not alone.”
She said that while the support they received through the efforts of the Children’s Miracle Network was invaluable as they dealt with tragedy, the impact of those efforts also changed the direction of their lives.
After the experience, she became a pediatric nurse who worked in various infant intensive care and neo-natal care units. The Gillans began giving speeches, telling their story in different communities as they traveled because of Dan Gillan’s career in the U.S. Marine Corps.
“The benefit is progressive, like a domino effect,” Gillan said. “Not only did it help Dan and I to survive what we had to go through, that survival increased exponentially our giving, both personally and professionally. It changed our lives in profound ways and we would not be the people we are today without having gone through that.”
In addition to devoting their lives to service after losing their two daughters, the Gillans also made the decision to become parents again, adopting son, Jared, and daughter, Abby, in the mid-1990s. With the adoption of Abby, who was born 2 1/2 months prematurely, the family once again experienced the importance of the Miracle Network.
Abby, now 18, was on a monitor for a year after she was born and still deals with the effects of being a preemie.
“My head’s really small and I have to wear glasses because I’m basically blind,” Abby Gillan said with a smile. “They call me a miracle baby. (I laugh about it because) there’s really no other way to deal with it.”
Abby Gillan knows that regardless of the things she’s had to deal with, she is able to have the life she has because of the efforts of the Miracle Network and its programs, which is why she joins her parents and countless others in supporting the organization.
While Andrea and Abby Gillan did their part Tuesday, they weren’t the only ones showing their support of National Pancake Day as hundreds of patrons made their way to IHOP to enjoy pancakes and make a donation to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.
Albany IHOP General Manager Terry Kuhn said the restaurant was packed throughout the morning rush and that the location was well on its way of exceeding its goal of raising $5,000.
“Everybody gets a free short stack, regardless of whether they order anything else,” said Kuhn. “Most people have been very generous, though, and made a donation. Each year we’ve been able to raise close to $5,000, and this year we’re hoping to go over. It’s looking good so far.”
Kuhn said while the fundraiser increased customer traffic for the restaurant, it wasn’t hard for the restaurant to get employees to volunteer to work extras shifts to help out and make sure things ran smoothly.
“We have employees who have had premature children and grandchildren,” Kuhn said. “This is kind of personal to us.”
Even employees who haven’t been directly affected by childhood illness wanted to volunteer to help a worthy cause.
“Today was my day off, but this is important,” said server Erik Taylor. “I haven’t been affected personally, but my heart goes out to those who have. I think it’s a good cause.”
Nationwide IHOP set a goal of raising $3 million for children’s hospitals around the country. All funds raised at the Albany location will go to Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital for use in the hospital’s pediatric care unit.
Since its inception in 1982, Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals has raised more than $4.7 billion for children’s hospitals throughout the United States and Canada. Those donations have gone to research, training, equipment and to pay for uncompensated care in support of saving and improving the lives of children and their families.
For those directly affected by childhood illness, however, the Miracle Network does more than just raise money and awareness.
“We have been a part of each of the aspects of what miracle network is about,” Andrea Gillan said. “It’s a good thing to support. The organization does what we feel is our purpose in life: giving life to love.”