(WHTM) — Cheryl Hornung, of Dauphin County, turned her own personal tragedy into an opportunity and now brings joy to sick children across the country.
“Caitlin was diagnosed with cancer when she was four. We spent the next three and a half years in four different hospitals in four different states,” Hornung said.
A frightening time for Hornung and her family as they rallied around Caitlin, their firstborn, as she battled cancer.
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“For Caitlin, a positive distraction was huge. If she was getting chemo or radiation or coming out of surgery. If she knew she had something fun to do, to make it and give it away. It kind of took the scariness out of a hospital setting,” Hornung said.
Throughout her battle, Hornung made sure Caitlin had an outlet. “I know that Caitlin several times in ICU, kind of touch and go, but if she would get beads, she would do some necklaces quick. I can follow the nurses and doctors down the hall wearing the things she gave them.”
Despite a hard fight, devastation came on October 2, 2000.
“Caitlin was seven, we had hoped to make it to her 8th birthday, but didn’t quite make it. It’s tough. It’s a dark, dark place you drop into. You’ve got to figure out what do to next how to get out of that dark place,” Hornung said.
But, from that dark place, a chance to spread light to other families and kids fighting their own health challenges. “It was tough because as soon as she passed, we took in our Christmas presents and gave them out to the kids at the hospital.”
“I went to the restroom and cried. It was just very raw, emotional. I was so happy we could help others but as a mom, it just ripped my heart thinking why couldn’t my daughter have survived to enjoy this,” Hornung said.
It was from this tragedy that Caitlin’s Smiles was born. “It’s a good way for us to help others that walk the shoes we did.”
The volunteer-powered non-profit gathers gifts and delivers them to children and families in Pennsylvania and neighboring states.
“To be at a doctor’s office or an emergency room and receive a bag of goodies. They put a smile on her face. So, when I was looking in her bag, we noticed a little note that said Caitlin’s Smiles,” Yaitza (Marie) Ortiz, volunteer, said. “This was such a great gesture.”
Oritz’s family, so grateful, decided to volunteer their own time to put smiles on their families’ faces. “Just warmed my heart to know the cause, like the whole reason Caitlin’s Smiles exists is because of Caitlin.”
“I think she is a Remarkable Woman because of a tragedy that occurred in her life, you don’t really recover from right, you losing a child is just heartbreaking,” Ortiz added.
Caitlin has two sisters. Danielle was four when Caitlin passed, she graduates from Millersville in May with a Master’s in Social Work. Abby is following in her father’s footsteps to run the namesake hardware store.
Caitlin’s Smiles is always looking for donations and volunteers. Hornung was nominated by abc27’s Remarkable Woman winner Suzanne Sheaffer, who started the Pennsylvania Gold Star Mothers Football Game at Central Dauphin High School.