By Frank J. Diekmann
Kayla Guerrero had never heard of Credit Unions for Kids, or even the Children’s Miracle Network for that matter. Then again, there was a time when she also had never heard of something called Hirschsprungs Disease.
And while you may not ever know Ms. Guerrero or anything about the disease, there is something she wants you to know: you can be a part of something much bigger than yourself that makes an enormous difference for children who may never know you, but they’ll appreciate what may be one of the best things you’ve done as they are going through the worst.
Kalya Guerrero is the mother of Mateo Guerrero, a Children’s Miracle Network Champion kid who had been through more heck than any kid should—not that you’d ever know it (although look out, because he’s become darn skilled and media savvy about sharing his story).
Kayla is also a branch service rep with Oregon Community Credit Union in Eugene, and was in Orlando along with her son for Children's Miracle Network's Children’s Hospitals Week, which is where I spoke with her. Orlando may be home to the Happiest Place on Earth, but it isn’t always for everyone.
A Diagnosis–And Long Hospital Stay
Nine years ago when Mateo was born, his parents soon noticed he was having no bowel movements and his stomach had become distended. That led the kind of frightening, nervous agony for any newborn’s parents as Mateo was moved into the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit, which would become his home for the next 71 days of his new life after finally being diagnosed with Hirschsprung’s Disease, which causes a lack of nerve cells in the intestine.
When other new babies were joyfully going home to newly decorated nurseries and cooing grandparents, doctors operated to remove Matteo’s colon and half his small intestine, and when it was his turn to finally leave he would do so with an ostomy bag.
About a year later Kalya went to work at Oregon Community CU, which at the time was participating in a balloon sales fundraiser for something called Children’s Miracle Network. She volunteered to go to a local organizational meeting.
“When I was there I saw a video featuring a family whose child had spent time in the neonatal intensive care unit and it reminded me so much of what we had been through that I was crying,” shared Kayla. “They asked me to stay after to share my story. I was more than happy to, because his condition is so rare, it was a win-win. It was an opportunity to talk about his disease and CMN.”
Kayla has been involved with Credit Unions for Kids and Children’s Miracle Network ever since, as her son has had to deal with a dozen surgeries and hospital visits that have ranged from one day to two weeks. He primarily visits PeaceHealth/Sacred Heart Medical Center, not far from the Gurerrero’s home, but has also had to travel two hours to get to Doernbacher Children’s Hospital to see a specialist in pediatric gastroenterology. Mateo had three surgeries in 2017—which Kayla described as a “rough year for us”—but he’s been hospital free since September of 2017.
“It’s all he’s ever known,” said Kayla. “It’s his normal.”
Featured on a Cereal Box
For the last two years Mateo’s new normal has been as a CMN Champion, the kids selected to be ambassadors for the charity. Mateo hasn’t been shy in his new role. When I asked Kayla if her son enjoyed the “work,” she immediately responded, “Oh, yes!”
“We’ve done the high school pageants with kids helping kids. We’ve done Credit Unions for Kids with Oregon Community. We’ve done the radiothons,” she said. “This is his second round as a Champion. He had his picture on Cheerios boxes that were sold by Costco. He likes to talk about what he’s been through and to raise awareness. He has a very positive attitude and a bright outlook. Even in the hospital he has a smile on his face; he doesn’t get down at all. He’s become very good at public speaking.”
So has Kayla. During the Children’s Hospital Week event in Orlando, she spoke at a reception hosted by CO-OP Financial Services and was articulate while still emotional about what it’s been like to live with her son’s disease. This may not be the best way to phrase it, but Kayla was so positive about such a negative that it was easy to see how her story could inspire others–especially parents facing the same tough road.
At that same reception, incidentally, CO-OP’s Samantha Paxson announced that over the last 10 years Credit Unions for Kids–of which CO-OP is a primary sponsor–has raised $20 million for hospitals and sick children.
When not busy with his new day job with which he is “very involved,” Mateo is a third grader in Oregon who is in the highest reading and math groups in his class. Kayla noted proudly that Mateo has never fallen behind in school as the result of hospitalizations. In fact, Kayla said were it not for the dietary restrictions and the ostomy bag, you’d think he was just like any other kid—and isn’t that what every kid wants to be?
Support from CU & Co-Workers
Oregon Community CU remains very involved with CMN, most recently raising funds for two electric cars that kids in the hospital can drive to the operating room, rather than be transported in a wheelchair. Who ever thought kids would want to go to an OR?
Kayla said she hasn’t kept track of how much time she gives to Children's Miracle Network, but stressed that Oregon Community CU has been “very supportive,” allowing her to use her CORE–Community Outreach Employee–hours to dedicate to the cause while being paid. Other employees have also dedicated their hours to her.
Oregon Community CU, of course, isn’t alone. Credit unions across the country annually raise millions of dollars for Credit Unions for Kids and Children's Miracle Network. And maybe as a result of all that, perhaps you’ve even gotten a bit weary of hearing from the charities or being asked to give or participate in an event. Maybe you can’t believe a fundraiser has come around once again.
What You Should Know
Kayla Guerrero understands that, but she also knows she needs look no further than her own home to see first-hand the good works being done for her son by credit unions and their members, and for all the victims of Hirschsprungs Disease and other diseases most of us–thankfully–have never heard of.
“If I could tell credit unions one thing it would be that they are saving lives in their local communities,” she told me. “They are saving the lives of their neighbors’ and their members’ kids. They are part of something that is bigger than themselves.”
Frank J. Diekmann is Cooperator in Chief at kb-studio.ru and can be reached at or @FrankCUToday.