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Ailing children navigate with Wheels of Love

Renee Moore buckles her daughter, Elizabeth Long, into a wagon customized by the Wheels of Love ministry of First United Methodist Church in Conroe, Texas.
UMNS photos by John Gordon.

By John Gordon*
June 18, 2008 | CONROE, Texas (UMNS)

With just a few modifications, a simple red wagon is transformed into "Lizzie’s Limo," enabling 4-year-old leukemia patient Elizabeth Long to navigate her hospital with the help of her family.

"She waves at everybody like she’s in a parade," says mom Renee Moore. "She feels like she’s the princess. So it helps her."

Elizabeth received one of the first wagons produced by the Wheels of Love ministry launched in 2007 at First United Methodist Church in Conroe near Houston. The wagons are customized with IV poles, holders for oxygen bottles, car seats and a trailer.

Anthony Castrejon and his family receive a new wagon from volunteers Philip Keitel (left) and Richard Stanton. 


"It makes the treatment days a lot easier," says Moore. "I would be pushing her in the stroller with one hand and I would be dragging the IV pole with another hand and sometimes having to get both of them on an elevator to go down to day surgery to do the bone marrow or the spinal taps. And it was just very cumbersome trying to maneuver all that."

Retired millwright Richard Stanton started the Conroe church ministry to help seriously ill children and their parents move more easily through hospitals, their homes and their communities.

"We found that some of the children can’t move at all and they have to be on their respirators or feeding tubes all the time," says Stanton. "It allows the child to be with the rest of the family—take him for a walk down the street, go to the park, go watch big brother play softball."

Church member Phillip Keitel, a retired IRS auditor, helps to customize the wagons. Each one takes about 20 hours. "I just can’t turn away from a child in need," says Keitel.

The wagons are given to families regardless of their income. Donations cover the $350 cost of materials.

Among the beneficiaries are children such as 3-year-old Anthony Castrejon, who is being treated for heart problems and complications including lung, liver and kidney disease and asthma.

"We need the help," says his mother, Elizabeth Castrejon. "God bless them because this is a wonderful idea."

Keitel and Stanton outfit a wagon for children with special medical needs.


Stanton spreads the word about the wagon availability through hospitals and social workers. He believes the demand will be big because of the large number of children’s hospitals in the area. Eventually, he would like to see the ministry help seriously ill children across the United States.

"These kids, you look in their faces and there’s absolute innocence. These are God’s angels on earth," says Stanton. "And I feel we have an obligation to do the best we can do for them."

Keitel agrees. "There’s the satisfaction I get when I see these children and their parents receive one of these," he says. "I can see in their eyes what this means to them."

For Elizabeth’s family, the wagon serves as both a toy and a tool to help the youngster during treatments expected to last more than two years at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. The child was diagnosed in August 2007.

"Life is already turned upside down as it is," says Moore. "Just the fact that somebody cared enough to take the time—to use their workmanship and their talents to make something that we can use and benefit from and make our life a little bit easier—it just really means a lot."

*Gordon is a freelance producer based in Marshall, Texas.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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First United Methodist Church, Conroe, Texas

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