By J.M. Copeland
For Hometown News
"We are never guaranteed as to what life is going to throw at us," said Christine Belz as she looked at the memory box she created for her son, Zachary.
The shadow box, hung on the wall of her home, is filled with things Zachary loved. Things that made him happy. Zachary was born in 1998 with cystic fibrosis and died in October 2008 at age 10.
Some of the things in the display, such as the Tide box, need a little explanation. Ms. Belz said that when he was on the ventilator they would attempt to coax him out of his room. One of his favorite places was the laundry room when the washer was running. In time he associated the box of Tide with the comfort he felt when wash was being done.
"He would carry the Tide around with him," his mom said. "I wrote to the company and told them about Zachary and they would send him promotional items."
The Tide box is all part of Zachary's legacy and a direct link to Loads of Smiles, a prescribed pediatric extended care facility opened by Ms. Belz in May. The facility is licensed through the state Agency for Health Care.
Wanting to help other families that might be going through the same thing her family experienced, Ms. Belz returned to school for her nursing degree after Zachary's death and began plans to open a PPEC in South Daytona.
"I liked the concept of the PPEC, but there were none close enough that suited our family lifestyle. So, I decided to quit my job and be a stay at home mom," she said.
When Zachary was eight years old he had a double lung transplant at Stanford University.
"He had a wonderful life for two years," said his mom. "He could run, play t-ball and he laughed. He was the happiest child you've ever seen and one of those children who appreciates life."
When planning the care center, Ms. Belz incorporated all of the features that would have worked for her family.
"We provide a comfortable environment for the child Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. To 5 p.m.," she said. "We also provide door-to-door bus transportation with an escort."
A typical day at the school includes breakfast and lunch, singing and story telling and schooling from a certified teacher for those who qualify. Throughout the day, the children's personal therapists come in to provide treatment, eliminating the need for mom and dad to make special arrangements for off-site appointments.
"My goal was always to provide a safe environment for a special needs child so the family feels they can go out in the workforce and provide for their family," Ms. Belz said. "We work closely with their doctors and therapists."
The facility is funded by Medicaid and accepts private insurance.
The PPEC has 19 students, ages four months to 10 years, and can accept up to 35 students from birth to 21 years old.
The center is definitely a family affair with Ms. Belz's sister, Sandy Cornelius, the school administrator, something that was helpful recently as Ms. Belz gave birth to a daughter, London, earlier this month.
"It's a family business, not corporate," Ms. Belz said. "My plan is to be in the building most of the time. I am the director of nursing."
Ms. Belz said having been Zachary's mother has put her in a unique role.
"They know I understand what they are going through," she said. "I've been there and can relate to what they want for their child."
Additional information about the PPEC is available online at loadsofsmiles.org.