When Jennifer Gwin helped save a little girl’s life at Greenwood Park Mall 13 years ago, she never dreamed how that little girl would affect her own life.
Gwin, a pediatric rehabilitation nurse at Methodist Hospital, was nearby when then 2-year-old Anna Molloy lost her breathing tube and began to turn blue. Gwin rushed to the scene and reaffixed the tube but assumed she’d never see the girl or her father again.
Anna’s family and friends eventually formed a foundation to help special-needs kids. Meanwhile, Gwin, who lives in Greenwood, went on to adopt and foster many special-needs kids.
This spring, Gwin’s 9-year-old son, Alex, will become the 100th recipient of Anna’s Celebration of Life Foundation, named for the little girl with a big heart for helping others.
Alex, who has tight muscles due to cerebral palsy, loves the soothing effect of water. “He’s so excited to be getting his hot tub,” said Gwin, who submitted the request to other wish-making agencies with no luck.
Anna’s dad, Pete Molloy, was thrilled to learn the nurse who saved Anna’s life would benefit from the foundation’s milestone 100th wish granted. He received the wish request from the Kids Wish Network in Florida.
“I knew that day in the mall (that) I would meet Jennifer again. I just didn’t know when,” said Molloy, a Southsider who started the foundation with the help of fellow businessmen.
The first reunion occurred five years ago, when Gwin’s family received the gift of a home-security system from Anna’s foundation.
Both times, Molloy and Gwin didn’t realize their connection until the wish was in the anonymous vetting process.
Gwin feels blessed to be helped by others who know both the struggles and rewards of raising special-needs kids.
“Unless you live it, unless you have kids with special needs, you just don’t realize how much some things can cost, and how much things like a hot tub will help above and beyond. For people living paycheck to paycheck, those kinds of things aren’t possible without somebody helping,” she said.
Anna inspired the idea of helping other special-needs kids. She was born with geleophysic dysplasia, a rare genetic disorder that causes dwarfism. She packed a lot of giving into her 12 years of life.
She was about 8 when the foundation was started in her name, and Anna enjoyed knowing that other kids benefited. She also delighted in presenting many of the foundation’s gifts herself and often distributed food to the needy. In 2006, a community center near Downtown was named Anna’s House in her honor.
Although doctors said she wouldn’t live long and never would leave the hospital, Anna lived a big life. She died July 31, 2008, less than two months shy of her 13th birthday. Her generous spirit lives on through her namesake foundation, which grants life-enhancing items to families with kids who celebrate their own “specialness,” as Anna would say.
As a pediatric nurse, Gwin has seen foster kids stay in the hospital for months at a time because no one feels capable of handling their medical needs at home. About 10 years ago, she started bringing some of those children into her home.
She’s taken in several special-needs foster kids over the years and has adopted seven sons in the process. She now has nine boys living under her roof, ages 3 to 19, with varying degrees of needs.
“Jennifer was my guardian angel that day at the mall,” Pete Molloy said. “It feels great to be able to give back. Every time we give, we can see and feel Anna even more.”