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Erin’s Place creates a home-like setting for pediatric cancer patients

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Twenty in-kind donors, 80 individuals and five foundations have come together to raise the equivalent of almost $1 million for the construction and endowment of Erin’s Place, a home-like environment for pediatric cancer patients.

Erin’s Place, a project of the Children’s Cancer Fund of New Mexico, has been on Diana and George Trujeque’s minds for the past three decades.

Diana Trujeque, the executive director of the Children’s Cancer Fund of New Mexico and the mother of the child for whom Erin’s Place is named, operates one of the facility’s reclinable beds. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

“It’s been a dream since we lost our child 32 years ago,” said Diana Trujeque, the executive director of the Children’s Cancer Fund.

The Trujeques’ son, Erin, for whom Erin’s Place is named, died of cancer in a hospital at the age of 12 but would much rather have been at home.

Since Erin’s passing, the Trujeques have devoted their lives to helping children with cancer. In honor of their son’s memory, one specific goal has been to help children live in a home-like setting for hospice care or while receiving treatment if possible.

While living at home during treatment is possible for some, it is impossible for many New Mexican pediatric cancer patients who live outside of Albuquerque and can’t receive a proper level of care in their hometowns, she said. The resulting hospital stays can be draining on both the children and their families.

Ground was finally broken in October 2016 and the ceremonial grand opening was July 15.

With the creation of Erin’s Place, the Children’s Cancer Fund’s board members hope to help ease those struggles for such families, who will be referred to the facility based on medical necessity. Because they have access to their own homes during treatment, Albuquerque residents will not be eligible to live in the facility.

“We wanted to create a really peaceful atmosphere,” said Brent Franken, a board member.

Erin’s Place, located near University and Lomas, is about 6,000 square feet and includes three identical one-story apartments. The apartments were designed to look as much like an actual home as possible.

While some of their features are reminiscent of a hospital, they look much less clinical. For example, the children’s beds recline and are remote-controlled, as a hospital bed would be, but look like normal beds and are outfitted with a brightly colored comforter and decorative pillows.

Erin’s Place also includes other features, such as a common room area and a playground that all residents can enjoy. For Trujeque, a particularly important part of the home is the water feature, which sits outside in the middle of the facility.

The water feature was made with the help of artist Angus Macpherson, who runs the Children’s Cancer Fund’s Artist in Residence Program. He assisted child cancer patients in painting individual clay tiles, which were placed together to become the feature’s background.

Trujeque said the excitement of the children when they saw the finished fountain at Erin’s Place’s grand opening was palpable.

“Some of the kids were here (for the grand opening) and were saying, ‘I painted that! I painted that with Angus!'” Trujeque said.

Part of Erin’s Place’s construction was made possible by in-kind donors. Franken Construction, for which Franken is project manager, donated general contracting services. Several other organization board members also donated to the project.

Among them were Melissa Deaver-Rivera, president of Frank’s Supply Co. Inc., and Dee Dennis, the CEO of DKD Electric LLC.

Dennis said his family has been involved with the Children’s Cancer Fund since he was a child and a friend was diagnosed with cancer. Even though his friend lost his fight, Dennis said the services that the Children’s Cancer Fund provided were invaluable.

“We saw how important it was for his family,” he said.

Other businesses contributed to Erin’s Place, including AUI Inc. and Heads Up Landscape Contractors, two Albuquerque-based companies.

But it wasn’t just companies responsible for making Erin’s Place a reality. Donations from foundations and independent individuals have amounted to more than $500,000. And, according to board leaders, people were very eager to give.

“I have five dollars that a guy gave me at Costco the day I was getting all the playground furniture,” Deaver-Rivera said. “It was a guy in the parking lot who just asked me what we were doing.”

According to Trujeque, the Children’s Cancer Fund won’t have to borrow any money to cover the construction of Erin’s Place. But it is still in need of donations to contribute to an endowment, which will be used to maintain Erin’s Place. Donations can be given online at the ccfnm.org/erins-place.

“It was a lot of hard work, but it all came together because people gave,” Trujeque said. “It was so many (people).”

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