Serve with Compassion—A VGM Member Spotlight

Published in Home Medical Equipment on January 27, 2020

Recently we interviewed Christine Strutt, VGM Member and Founder of Connor’s Cuddles.  Connor’s Cuddles is an organization that honors Strutt’s late son, Connor, who passed away from Non-Hodgkin’s T-cell lymphoma. Since Connor’s passing, Strutt spreads smiles on behalf of Connor’s name. She has not only seen the real strength of those she serves but shines bright with courage and bravery herself. Her work, alongside her son Connor’s legacy and the fearlessness of those she serves, is the true definition of character and is a source of inspiration for our personal abilities to serve others within the HME profession.  

Join us as we unpack a lesson of resilience and kindness during uncharted territory.  

Christine and Connor’s Story 

Connor

Christine and Connor’s journey began in September 2014 when Connor, an active and healthy 16-year-old, was on antibiotics after experiencing some discomfort in his chest. At the time, recent cases of respiratory infections circled, leading doctors to assume that Connor was also dealing with this too. However, after four weeks of listening to Connor’s breathing while he slept, Christine’s momma instinct was telling her something wasn’t right. Thus, leading to a chest x-ray and CT scan at the local hospital.  

The following morning the doctor referred Connor to a major hospital. Like any mother, this prompted concern, but Christine being the optimist she is, was sure it was just a precaution.  

On September 16th, Connor was taken by ambulance to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City because doctors found a mass that was putting so much pressure on Connor’s chest it could cause his heart to burst at any moment. Mind you, Connor was participating in football practice days before.  

There it was determined that Connor had non-Hodgkin’s T-cell lymphoma. Connor’s family was told the cure rate for this is very high, and treatment began right away.  

“Connor underwent about 10 months of intense chemo, with some cycles requiring 30 days in the hospital, and some cycles requiring every other day treatment,” Christine says. “This translated to many three-and-a-half-hour drives to and from the hospital.” 

By June 2015, Connor was in remission. His trips to Kansas City were only on an as-needed basis. He even was able to return to school in the fall, where he served as the volleyball manager for his sister’s team, played on his high school basketball team, and continued pole vaulting the following spring during track and field season. 

Following a second-place finish at a track meet on May 3, 2016, Connor started experiencing extreme pain again. At this time, his doctors in Kansas City suggested a return to the hospital.  

There it was determined the tumor was growing back and spreading to his bone marrow, making Connor 88% lymphatic. To move forward with a bone marrow transplant, lymphatic levels needed to be at 0%. Unfortunately, doctors were only able to get it to 2% before it began increasing again. Doctors ran out of treatment options, and Christine’s sweet boy, Connor, passed away on August 20, 2016. 

Rising by Lifting Others 

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After a few months had passed, Christine felt the need to make something positive out of her family’s nightmare. Her inspiration came from the light Connor gave this world. Connor’s bright smile lit up the room wherever he went. He loved children and animals of every kind. Christine was determined to find a way to spread Connor’s light and love of life.  

Christine spoke with the nurses at Children’s Mercy Hospital to discuss the greatest need for families facing similar trials as their family had just went through. She became inspired to provide homemade fleece blankets for children battling illness, and Connor’s Cuddles was created. Her motivation was the reminder of the long days, day after day, when Connor was at the hospital, and how even the simplest gesture, no matter how small, would make a huge difference in their day.  

With each blanket, a card is attached with Connor’s picture and a few words describing his personality. Each note ends with “Be Brave and Courageous.” The same phrase is sewn into every blanket. This simple sentiment embodies the strength that Connor possessed, as well as the power of the other young warriors fighting similar medical battles.  

When describing the magnitude of the bravery and courage of these children, Christine says, “I have never experienced anything like it. The inspiration one gains from these children is like nothing else. Brave and courageous.... that is what Connor, as well as every warrior we send a cuddle to, is to me.” 

At the conception of Connor’s Cuddles, Christine aimed to provide 30-40 cuddles a year to those in need. However, with the help of her mom, dear friends, kind donations, and the support of family, she has made over 700 cuddles for extremely special kiddos. They even manage a Facebook Page to take special cuddle requests and inspire others through Connor’s Story. To date, they have completed 150 special requests spanning 38 states.  

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The Takeaway 

Although we navigate a highly regulated industry that requires much preparation, like life, there will always be a space for the unknown. In these instances, our only option to give the best care possible and be kind to those we are serving. Christine and Connor’s story reminds us that wherever we are, there are people struggling battles that we may not realize. However, we can control how we serve others and the compassion we have for those that surround us.   

In the wise words of Christine, “It costs nothing to be kind.” Let this phrase speak to you not only in life, but while you serve in the HME profession.  

Member Biography 

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VGM Member, Christine Strutt currently serves as an office manager for Central Plains Respiratory & Medical LLC. People describe her as strong, generous and hard working. VGM Employee owner, Jay Kopriva says “Christine is a very kind and warm-hearted person. When I first heard of Connor’s Cuddles it was just another reflection of her on-going selflessness. It’s been a pleasure getting to know Christine at Heartland and during onsite visits at Central Plains Respiratory & Medical LLC. We’re extremely proud to have Christine and Central Plain Respiratory & Medical LLC in the VGM Family.”

Thank you again, Christine, for sharing your story and being the type of person we strive to be.


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