Richard Nares, an artist and picture framer by trade, knows tragedy firsthand. His only son, Emilio, died of cancer before his sixth birthday.
In the aftermath, Nares found that the best way to cope with the tragic loss of his son was to help others in similar situations. Nares started out by driving families to and from the hospital in his own car. He soon became overwhelmed with requests and founded the Emilio Nares Foundation to transport poor families whose children are battling cancer to their medical visits at Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego.
Providing transportation to these families has filled an enormous unmet need. For many cancer patients and their families, transportation to and from the hospital can be a logistical nightmare, especially for low-income families who do not speak English as a first language. One mother of a toddler with a brain tumor, for example, told him of a horrific five-hour journey on public transportation she had to take to get to the hospital. She would leave her home at 4:30 in the morning and change buses five times to get to the hospital by 9 a.m. Public transportation can be dangerous for cancer patients because they have suppressed immune systems.
That is why Nares' program uses vans that are sterilized and fully stocked with snacks, cleaning materials, and towels to help when the children suffer reactions to chemo or other treatments. Nares' foundation serves thousands of families each year with transportation to and from medical visits, multiple education and support programs, cooking classes, and knitting and sewing groups.
"I look at these children and they remind me of my son," Nares said. "When I see the parents' stress and fear, it's like looking in a mirror." Yet Nares continues to look forward. "I want doctors to ask the kids how they are feeling. I want parents to know that they are not alone and that someone is here to help," he said.
For developing a successful model to support and transport low-income families with children battling cancer to medical visits, Nares has been named one of 10 recipients of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Community Health Leaders Award. The award honors exceptional men and women who have overcome significant obstacles to tackle some of the most challenging health and health care problems facing their communities. Nares received the award during a ceremony in Baltimore, Md., on November 9.
"Richard is often seen around campus," said Rady Children's Hospital Chief Executive Officer Margareta F. Norton. "Whether he is driving patients to appointments, helping staff the resource center, or speaking with staff, Richard is constantly available and interested to learn about the needs of the children and families in our care. He has helped us to promote and offer a variety of support services in the hospital in a way that only a parent could understand. It is this interest and pride in his work that are his greatest contributions to our community."