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Sister Oaks feels 'urgency' for Primary Children's Hospital help

SALT LAKE CITY — MayLee Homer's fingers traced around her ears where oxygen tubes typically hang.

"It's soft and clear and it helps me to sleep better," she said.

The 5-year-old has been on and off supplemental oxygen since she was just a week old. It's become her normal, but it is a "normal" that her mother is extremely grateful for.

With an older brother who required a heart transplant and MayLee's diagnosis of a rare disease called neuroendocrine cell hypoplasia that affects her lungs and makes it difficult for her to breathe, Primary Children's Hospital has tenderly become the Homers' second home.

"Without them, we wouldn't have MayLee. We wouldn't have Alex," said Brynn Homer. "There were times it seemed insurmountable. It's hard to explain those feelings."

The hospital, she said, "has definitely taken care of us."

Friends and family of the Homers have often asked how they can help throughout their ongoing plight and other than extra prayers and occasional visits, Brynn Homer said many have felt helpless. So she's encouraged them to give of their means or volunteer to help collect donations — however big or small — that go directly to help children in need of the best care.

Primary Children's Hospital board member Sister Kristen Oaks high-fives MayLee Homer, 5, after the pair signed 130 thank you cards as part of the Primary Children's Pennies by the Inch campaign aat the hospital's Outpatient Services Building on Wednesday in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018. MayLee is a current patient at the hospital and is an ambassador for the campaign, which is the longest running door-to-door fundraising campaign in the country. Sister Oaks is the wife of President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the LDS Church's First Presidency.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Primary Children's Hospital board member Sister Kristen Oaks high-fives MayLee Homer, 5, after the pair signed 130 thank you cards as part of the Primary Children's Pennies by the Inch campaign aat the hospital's Outpatient Services Building on Wednesday in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018. MayLee is a current patient at the hospital and is an ambassador for the campaign, which is the longest running door-to-door fundraising campaign in the country. Sister Oaks is the wife of President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the LDS Church's First Presidency.

"Primary Children's offers excellent medical care and professionalism, cutting-edge technology and, to keep it that way, donations are necessary," said Sister Kristen Oaks, longest standing member of the pediatric hospital's board of trustees and wife of President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Her father was a physician at the hospital and she said she would often accompany him on his evening rounds, and "always loved this hospital, but I wasn't invested in it until I started giving my own money to the cause."

Sister Oaks, a longtime backer of Pennies by the Inch, the hospital's community-driven and the nation's longest running door-to-door fundraising campaign, said there likely isn't a family on the Wasatch Front who hasn't been touched in some way by Primary's extended reach.

Historical photo of singer Marie Osmond during a Primary Children's Hospital Pennies by the Inch fundraising campaign.

Primary Children's Hospital

Historical photo of singer Marie Osmond during a Primary Children's Hospital Pennies by the Inch fundraising campaign.

"Miracles happen in this hospital," she said, adding that supporting Primary Children's efforts is a unique opportunity for the surrounding community.

Funds collected by Pennies by the Inch go directly to serve various programs at the hospital, including to provide charity care, which covered 13,645 child visits last year, resulting in more than $18.8 million in care. It also supports enhancement programs, such as music and art therapy, bereavement and palliative care — services that patients and families come to rely on.

"We don't need it to keep the lights on, but we do need it," said Cindy Woolley, relations manager for Primary Children's Hospital Foundation. She said the hospital, which is one of few locations to offer a variety of expert and specialty care, will never turn a child away, regardless of the family's ability to pay.

More than 115 volunteers help facilitate Pennies by the Inch in a five-state region — Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Montana and Wyoming. The organization prints 120,000 door-hangers that end up dotting neighborhoods and communities across those states, making collection of donations on a widespread basis possible, said Angela Mangum, Pennies by the Inch volunteer board chairwoman.

While the campaign grew from LDS Church efforts, where members were encouraged to give as many pennies as inches they were tall, Pennies by the Inch has branched out to focus on community partnerships, specifically with local schools, businesses and other religions, Mangum said.

Historical photos of Primary Children's Hospital's Pennies by the Inch fundraising campaign.

Primary Children's Hospital

Historical photos of Primary Children's Hospital's Pennies by the Inch fundraising campaign.

"People have such a history with the hospital," she said, adding that Pennies by the Inch has been in effect for more than 96 years. "We have a wonderful community and while the hospital has its beginnings with the church, community support continues because it's such a great hospital."

Pennies by the Inch, Brynn Homer said, is a way for kids to get involved and to help other kids. She said many children would run for their piggy banks when they'd come collecting for the organization.

"It's a cause that is never going to go away," Sister Oaks said, adding that she feels an "urgency" for people to reach out and help.

"People need to wake up and be aware of what they can contribute to the community," she said. "There's never been a better time than now."

Sister Oaks said that Jesus Christ's teachings exhibit his concern and love for children, a responsibility that is shared by Primary Children's Hospital staff and physicians.

Five-year-old MayLee Homer talks a break as she signs 130 thank you cards with Primary Children's Hospital board member Sister Kristen Oaks as part of the Primary Children's Pennies by the Inch campaign at the hospital's Outpatient Services Building on Wednesday in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018. MayLee is a current patient at the hospital and is an ambassador for the campaign, which is the longest running door-to-door fundraising campaign in the country. Sister Oaks is the wife of President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the LDS Church's First Presidency.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Five-year-old MayLee Homer talks a break as she signs 130 thank you cards with Primary Children's Hospital board member Sister Kristen Oaks as part of the Primary Children's Pennies by the Inch campaign at the hospital's Outpatient Services Building on Wednesday in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018. MayLee is a current patient at the hospital and is an ambassador for the campaign, which is the longest running door-to-door fundraising campaign in the country. Sister Oaks is the wife of President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the LDS Church's First Presidency.

"He had a special love for little ones," she said. "It's so unique and we are actually commanded to take care of them."

Young MayLee believes that the hospital has helped her. She enjoys going there — even though it is frequent — because she sees other children being helped, too. The Pennies by the Inch ambassador said she likes helping other people.

She and Sister Oaks signed more than 100 postcards Wednesday that will be sent to donors and volunteers as a "thank you" for their time and committment to the cause of caring for children.

Last year, Primary Children's Hospital cared for 98,785 children, the average age being about 8 years old. Pennies by the Inch runs through Oct. 1.

"We feel like Primary Children's is our hospital," Sister Oaks said. "I want our community to care about this. The children are really counting on it."