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Mom Joins Navy to Help Daughter with Spina Bifida; Fans Across America Gives an Assist

09/16/2010

By: Tony DeMarco
Sports Writer and Fans Across America Member

Kendra Cantelope never had any previous inclination to join the Navy. But off she'll go to basic training later this month, leaving behind husband Jason and daughter Ava, born 2 1/2 years ago with spina bifida.

The young San Tan Valley couple simply saw no better option.

Medical bills are an endless proposition. Benefits from the state of Arizona are about to run out. Sky-high insurance deductibles aren't affordable. So what the Navy has to offer is a financial lifeline in the form of a job with full medical benefits.

The rest will just have to work itself out.

"I'm not nervous," Kendra, 24, said. "And I think it's because I know why I'm doing it. What comforts me is I know that no matter what, my daughter will be taken care of because of the benefits. And with the life insurance, so will my husband."

It has been a tough 2 1/2 years for the family both emotionally and financially since Ava was born with her spinal nerve and cord outside her body.

She underwent a four-hour surgery shortly after she was born, and has required medical attention ever since. Other complications include bladder infections and urinary incontinence. She still is unable to walk, but can stand. She will require care for the rest of her life.

"Ava has done a lot better than most children do who were born at that level," Kendra said. "But she's been through a lot. I don't want to leave, but by the time she turns three in December, Arizona will be cutting off (benefits for) what they're giving her - physical therapy."

"I'm absolutely thankful for the Navy. If not for them, I don't know what we would have done. We probably would have had to file for bankruptcy and move out of state."

Alerted to the family's situation, the Fans Across America Charitable Foundation recently made a delivery from its food bank and assisted in finding the family a new toddler bed.

"We're so thankful for the bed," Kendra said. "Ava is getting too big for a crib. We didn't know what to do. We couldn't afford to buy her a bed. It's amazing; we didn't expect one so quickly."

And much to the surprise of Fans Across America Director George Macedon, the family had a donation of their own to make - Ava's crib, changing table, bath tub, toys and baby clothes she has outgrown.

"Kendra said, 'you better bring a van', and when I got there, I loaded it up with stuff she had to give to us," Macedon said. "It's very heartening to see a family in need wanting to help other families."

The family's time in Arizona likely is drawing to a close, however. After basic training outside Chicago, Kendra expects to be assigned to the Virginia area, where the Naval hospital in Norfolk can provide all the care Ava needs.

Jason, 28, who is in the medical supplies field, will have to find a new position. Kendra's job will be in construction, with four years of active duty, then four more in the reserves.

The Navy's no-women-in-combat rule made the enlistment easier to swallow for the couple. Both of their fathers served in Vietnam, and Jason's father lost a hand and his eyesight in combat. But Kendra could be constructing bridges or other projects in potential combat zones.

"I'll be building bridges with an F-16 on my back," she said. "You never know what could happen in a war zone. (Jason) is all right with it. It took awhile for him to come around. I had to convince him. But we came to the same conclusion: there was no other way unless one of us did it."

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