Ann Schrooten

I am the mother of four children, two of whom have disabilities. My oldest daughter, Hilary, was born deaf. Hilary received a cochlear implant when she was five years old (in 1995). After Hilary received the cochlear implant, our family moved from Phoenix, Arizona to St. Louis, Missouri so that Hilary could attend a school for the deaf that specialized in children with cochlear implants. In 1998, I gave birth to my third child - Jack. Jack was born at 33 weeks and, after spending most of the first six months of his life in the hospital, Jack was diagnosed with congenital muscular dystrophy. As a result of his disease, Jack has severe muscle weakness and requires a trach and is ventilator dependent 24/7.

I joined the message board in May, 2002 and have been an active participant ever since. In 2003, members on the message board mentioned wanting to get together at a central location in the country so that we could meet each other in person. What started out as an idea for a "Family Gathering" eventually became the " Pediatric Conference". Our first conference was held in 2004 in St. Louis, Missouri. After the success of our first conference, I made the commitment to try and facilitate a conference every two years. So far, I've honored my commitment with the help of many other moms and the financial support of our sponsors.

Over the years, I've come to know and care deeply for the parents of kids like Jack - parents of children who are classified as "medically fragile". The stories shared and the hardships faced by these parents really tugged at my heart and I felt like I needed to do something. I wanted to let these parents know that I recognize and understand what they are going through. I understand the enormous physical, emotional and financial stresses they face in caring for their children and I understand that some days it's all they can do to get up and put one foot in front of the other. Personal experience told me that parents of medically fragile children need respite time. The research I conducted in connection with establishing the foundation supported this. Knowing that the need was there and having the research to support this, the Willow Tree Foundation was established in 2004. The mission of the Willow Tree Foundation is to provide parents of medically fragile children with respite opportunities through activities that allow parents to take "time-out" from the unrelenting demands associated with their child's care so that they can maintain their stamina and sense of perspective and continue to meet the intense medical needs of their child. The Willow Tree Foundation is committed to "providing moments of calm in the storm of caring for a medically fragile child".

In 2002, my husband Mark and I, and our family of now four children - Hilary, Mary, Jack and Eric, moved back home to Arizona. Today, I keep busy working full time as an attorney, being mom to my children, spending time on the message board, planning conferences and running a foundation. My days are full - full of the hustle and bustle of every day life, full of appreciation for the opportunities I've been given and the friendships I've forged from the message board and full of love for my incredibly unique and amazing children.