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Improving Children's Access to Healthcare: Wyoming Girl Advocates for Child Health in Washington, D.C.
It doesn’t take long to realize how special the Randall family is. They amaze you with tales of their Wyoming ranch, barrel racing, publishing books and other unique talents. But most of all, they amaze you with the way they’ve come together, as a family, when faced with an inexplicable challenge.
At 8 years old, Mya Randall began feeling fatigued, having trouble eating and experiencing aches in her joints. After nearly two years of searching for answers and multiple visits to the closest emergency room in Wheatland, Wyoming, Mya was referred to pediatric specialists at Children’s Hospital Colorado more than 175 miles away. There, after two days of tests, she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, an incurable autoimmune disease that causes lesions and inflammation throughout the digestive tract.
Limited access to healthcare
Although Mya looks like any ordinary young girl on the outside, she struggles with and fights intense pain daily. She receives care from four different specialists through Children’s Colorado’s Digestive Health Institute, as well as private physicians. At one point, the family was traveling to Children’s Colorado almost weekly to receive infusions and treatment for Mya. From their home in Wyoming, that travel time comes out to at least three hours each way, over 350 miles round-trip.
Once Mya was diagnosed, her mom, Lana, quit her job as a teacher to stay home to care for Mya and travel with her to appointments. The Randall family then made the decision to homeschool Mya and her younger sister, Jewel, due to the immense amount of travel. Mya also withstood and overcame countless acts of badgering and bullying at school.
Today, Mya is 12 years old and still faces daily pain and complications with her chronic illness, though she’s come a long way since first being diagnosed. After experimenting with various medications, diets and supplements, the family has discovered a primarily natural diet and vitamin combination that’s worked for Mya and helped her feel better. As a result, they’ve only had to make the trip down to Children’s Colorado in Aurora every few months, as opposed to every week.
Child health advocacy in action
Being diagnosed at an early age gave Mya a new perspective on life. She began fundraising for Children’s Colorado as a patient ambassador in 2019. In her ambassador role, she’s shared videos and speeches about her life on the ranch in Wyoming and overcoming life’s obstacles while pursuing her dreams.
Her strong spirit, voice and passion for advocating for other children led to an invitation from the Children’s Colorado Government Affairs team to the Randall family to join us in Washington, D.C., for Family Advocacy Day in June 2019.
Speak Now for Kids Family Advocacy Day
Each year, the Children’s Hospital Association convenes government affairs staff from children’s hospitals with patients and families from across the country in Washington, D.C. This two-day event, Speak Now for Kids Family Advocacy Day, aims to raise awareness of kids’ health issues with lawmakers and to ask them to do what’s right for kids in public policy.
More than 50 patients and families from across the country attended the event, including Mya and her parents, Lana and Anthony, and her 8-year-old sister, Jewel.
At Children’s Colorado, our advocacy team speaks up clearly and powerfully for kids’ needs in public policy at the local, state and federal level. And we know one of the most effective ways to influence lawmakers is to share the stories of how laws and policies affect the kids and families they target. That’s why we’ve attended this event in Washington for the past four years, so we can give patients and families the opportunity to advocate for themselves and others, while also impacting the way our lawmakers approach national children’s health issues.
In D.C., Mya and her family met with all three Wyoming lawmakers — U.S. Senator Michael Enzi, U.S. Senator John Barrasso and U.S. Congresswoman Liz Cheney — as well as members of Colorado’s delegation, including U.S. Senator Cory Gardner and U.S. Congressman Scott Tipton.
They shared Mya’s healthcare journey with the lawmakers, and talked about key national issues for children’s health, including budget cuts that would limit access to care at rural and safety net hospitals, as well as ways to reduce administrative burdens when children travel out-of-state to access health care treatment. More generally, they discussed ways in which Colorado and Wyoming can continue to work together to ensure Wyoming kids receive the best care closer to home.
In addition to a full day of meetings on Capitol Hill, the Randall family also had some fun while they were in our nation’s capital. They participated in the D.C. bus tour, explored the American History Museum, ate some delicious seafood and enjoyed time at the patriotic dinner celebration, complete with caricature drawings and photos with superheroes.
An inspiration to others
And Mya, in particular, has faced her challenges with bravery. She finds comfort in her animals, art, baking, making music and her family. She told us she hopes to bring awareness to invisible diseases and inspire students and others around the country. And in D.C., she did just that. She consistently impressed everyone around her, including lawmakers, with her poise and optimistic articulation of her journey.
Despite the challenges they’ve faced and the sacrifices they’ve had to make, the Randalls exude positivity and strength. They consistently make each other smile and laugh, and their fun-loving energy spreads quickly to everyone around them. It’s also inspiring to see the way they rally around Mya — Lana as the protective mama bear, Anthony as the one who can always make her laugh, and Jewel as the sweet and outgoing sister who consistently checks in on her with a loving hug or hand holding.
As Lana said, “Behind every chronic illness is a person fighting. We, too, want to experience the joys in life and be seen for who we truly are. Feeling supported and loved can make a world of difference for those of us who struggle to just get out of bed. Be kind and be the change.”
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