Sutton's story of Thanksgiving

Sutton's story of Thanksgiving
With the holidays upon us, it's hard not to think of those less fortunate, those without their families, and those without their health. For one family, their greatest loss has spurred a movement that's capturing the Tri-Cities.

Jennifer Neer points to a picture, "This is right before we took him to the hospital, and really our last family photo."

The Neers are reminded every day, they're missing something. Christmas seems cruel. But Jennifer still makes the trek to Spokane's Sacred Heart Hospital every year.

"It's hard to walk the halls. I have a kinship with a doctor a nurse because you tried to save my son's life," said Neer.

It was where Sutton Neer's story began.

His mom says, "My hope is that I didn't struggle for nothing, my experience was worth it because I am changing the way people look at family, at each other and the community."

Sutton was just seven months old when he passed away. Much of his young life was spent in the hospital, on his back, behind glass.

His heart wasn't like his brother's. Sutton's condition came as a shock to the Neers, and also a realization. Families don't often plan to come to Spokane, and stay. Comforts like a baby swing, toy or stuffed animal can be left behind in the rush. The Neers had little else but a rattle on their visit, until a nurse brought them a swing. Their son's smile was fading, but this moment brought it back. Now, they do it for others.

Jennifer explained, "There was like an 8 to 9 month old in the NICU, and I ran down to the car and grabbed a mobile and ran up. And the mom said thank you, and you just know."

It brings him back, says Jennifer. She sees Sutton's smile in others.

"I think he would be proud."

From creature comforts to Barbies and Legos, the collection grows every year. And every year the Neers drive them back to Spokane to keep Sutton's story going.

"When you wake up on Christmas, and you're excited to see the twinkle in your kid's eye and you have a warm cup of coffee and there are lights on your tree, don't forget there are kids that their lights are fluorescent, and their rooms are white, and their families may not be together."

Donation locations can be found in Jennifer's letter below:

Our son Sutton Charlie Neer passed away August 19th, 2010 at 7 1/2 months old as a result of multiple complications after open-heart surgery due to a congenital heart disease. What was supposed to be a 10-day hospital stay at Spokane Children’s Hospital turned into a six-week battle for life. Unfortunately, Sutton's body was not strong enough to win the battle but his life and struggle has taught us many things and opened our eyes to the many challenges families face when their child gets sick.

Although we have great medical facilities here in the Tri-Cities, when a child gets very ill they are more often than not sent to the Children's Hospital in Seattle or Spokane to visit doctors, receive treatments and have surgeries. Many times this happens in an emergency situation. When having to travel for medical treatment, families may not have the opportunity to pack toys or some of the comforts of home, they may not have the room or they may not think they need anything. In Sutton's case, our short stay turned into a living situation for six weeks without a mobile, swing, toys, etc. Through donations to the hospital, they were able to provide these things for Sutton and our family, which provide a playtime and little normalcy.

During our time at Sacred Heart Children’s PICU in Spokane, we noticed that there were not a lot of items for children to help occupy their time while in the hospital. This place, the people who work there and the children hold a special place in our hearts and we want do what we can by asking you and others to donate a new toy to the children. This is our fourth year for this toy drive and we are hoping it will be bigger and better than before. The hospital has a 2013 wish list of items on their website for every age range of kids that are in the hospital ( Many children spend the holidays in a hospital bed separated from family or the traditions they love. To help celebrate the holidays, some of your donations are also put into a 'Santa Store' for child patients to go holiday shopping for their siblings. This gives patients an opportunity to participate in the holidays and be able to give to family members by ‘shopping’ within the hospital.

Making the choice to donate to these sick kids is incredibly important to our family and although there is never any pressure to donate, we are hoping that if you haven’t already made commitments and it’s in your budget you can participate this year. Please check out our blog Laughter Through Tears for information on the toy drive or on Facebook at You can also reach us at

Our family will be delivering toys to Spokane Children's Hospital December 16th, which means we will be accepting donations personally through Sunday, December 15th. This year we have drop off locations to make it more convenient! You can drop off toys at any of the following businesses through December 13th.

Stemp Screenprinting
13 S Dayton St

Mirage Pool & Spa
7422 W Clearwater Ave

Shakey's Pizza
4525 N Road 68

Washington Physical Therapy and The Fitness Center
3807 W Court St

Dax's Bar & Grill
1004 Lee Blvd

Paramount Communications Inc.
1238 Columbia Park Trail