As Rebecca Geringer was recovering from Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection and watching her daughter, Ashlynn, battle leukemia, she decided to do something that would allow her family to have the trip of a lifetime. Geringer applied for Bert’s Big Adventure.
The Geringer family is not alone in having a child with a chronic or terminal illness. Like the Geringers, many families have received support from Bert’s Big Adventure, which was founded in 2002 and is a non-profit foundation that provides an all-expenses-paid, five-day trip to Walt Disney World for children with chronic and terminal illnesses and their families.
Ashlynn was diagnosed with leukemia when she was three years old. Geringer, remembers the exact date – Aug. 29, 2013. Ashlynn was diagnosed as high risk and started treatment immediately.
Geringer remembers how Ashlynn knew she was sick, but did not really know what was going on. She remembers the day she took Ashlynn to get her head shaved three days after she turned four.
Geringer says, “she called herself baldielocks instead of goldielocks. Ashlynn didn’t allow her baldness to affect her at all. She embraced the bald look and did it so well I must say. Her hair is now almost to her shoulders and it’s just as blonde and beautiful as it was prior to the cancer.”
Ashlynn’s fight with cancer is not the only health issue that this family has faced. After giving birth to her youngest daughter Gracelynn, in 2015, Geringer suffered from four massive heart attacks all due to the pregnancy. It was a condition called Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection.
Geringer says, “I died on the way to the emergency room and once again in the emergency room. I was life-flighted from our local hospital to Emory in Atlanta. They ended up getting eight pounds of fluid of my chest. I was stable once I got to Emory and by Sunday I suffered another heart attack. The following day I was sent to the cath lab and that’s where we learned my left ventricle was torn as well and emergency open heart surgery was my only chance at survival. I underwent the surgery with all odds against me. I came out of surgery and did amazing. I was home within a week of my surgery. I had to learn to walk again on my left leg where they took two veins out of for the double by-pass. I am now a fifteen-month survivor where many don’t survive this type of condition.”
Bert’s Big Adventure took their first trip in 2003 with seven families from the Atlanta area. Today, it is an annual trip for 12 to 15 families all over the United States. These families do not only get a trip of a lifetime, they also get a lifetime of support through Bert’s Big Adventure. The foundation gives these families a community, life-long support, and love.
Stacey Weiss, founder and chairman of Bert’s Big Adventure, relates, on a smaller scale, with what families like the Geringers go through. Her oldest son, Hayden, was born prematurely not long before Bert’s Big Adventure took their first trip.
“We were in NICU for a month and that really was, even though that was a really difficult thing we went through, I think that gave us a blessing because it gave us a really good perspective on what these families go through and what these parents experience on a much smaller scale,” says Weiss.
When Geringer first found out about Bert’s Big Adventure, Ashlynn was too young, so she made a mental note to apply when Ashlynn turned five. Geringer was lying in bed after suffering the heart attacks and undergoing surgery when she saw that the deadline for Bert’s Big Adventure was approaching. Geringer applied right there.
Geringer received a call and when she learned that her family had been chosen, she describes feeling like a child on Christmas morning. The trip to Disney World with Bert’s Big Adventure was one that she will never forget.
“I have never seen my girls faces light up the way they did on this trip. We met so many new friends that are now our family. The rides, the food, the amazing gifts from Stacey, all the staff and volunteers were just awesome. They all made us feel so loved, so important. We literally felt like super stars. We were showered with so much love and gifts I felt like we had won something big. Honestly, we did win something big. We won a huge family, new friends and so much love and compassion from everyone. Our trip was literally a trip of a lifetime,” Geringer says.
Even though their trip to Disney World is over, their relationship with Bert’s Big Adventure isn’t. The Geringer family, along with the other Bert’s Big Adventure families, stay connected through reunions, which are held every spring, summer, fall, and winter. Geringer says that it is now her turn to give back.
“So many people far and wide came to help when Ashlynn was so sick and now it’s my turn to give back, even if it’s only to spread awareness of Bert’s Big Adventure and what they do. It truly melts my heart that such an amazing organization and all its entirety go to such measures to help these beautiful children,” Geringer says. They bring a smile to a child’s face and brighten a child’s life that may not ever get the chance to do this. It’s such a rewarding thing to be a part of.”