In March 1972, just two months after her second birthday, Kelly Anne Dolan received the diagnosis of aplastic anemia at the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania. The diagnosis introduced the Dolan family to a world of trauma, emergency trips, hospitalizations, separation, spiraling expenses, physical and emotional exhaustion, and great sadness.
Aplastic anemia creates a malfunction of the bone marrow where blood cells are produced. The inability to produce enough red cells (required to provide much-needed oxygen throughout the body), white cells needed to fight infection, and platelets that control bleeding was at the source of many emergency room visits and lengthy hospitalizations for Kelly Anne. The diagnosis of aplastic anemia resulted in the need for many blood transfusions caused by uncontrolled and sporadic bleeding episodes and infections.
It was during the five years of Kelly Anne’s illness that her parents, Joe and Peggy Dolan, learned of so many hardships their hospital "neighbors" were experiencing. Parents were losing their jobs, their homes, their cars, and much-needed services like utilities and phone, because the physical time and financial costs of caring for a seriously ill child removed them from jobs and decreased their incomes. Parents had to decide whether to pay the rent or a doctor's co-pays, whether to pay a phone bill or parking fees at the hospital, whether to stay with a sick hospitalized child or go to work. Peggy and Joe realized that these problems became even more extreme for single-parent families.
Kelly Anne’s condition evolved into a rare form of leukemia in the summer of 1976. She died from the effects of her illness on October 5, 1976, a little less than three months before her seventh birthday on New Year’s Eve.
The day after her death, the late Joe Dolan set the Fund in motion. The mission of the Fund stemmed from the Dolans' realization and experiences that there were little to no resources to help families in these situations stay "afloat." They also recognized that, no matter what the diagnosis, serious childhood illness created the same psychological, physical, and financial instability for families in crisis. They therefore established the Kelly Anne Dolan Memorial Fund to advocate for
families with seriously ill, physically and cognitively challenged, or severely
injured children nationwide through information and education, and to provide financial
assistance for needs not covered by insurance for children living or receiving care in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.
The first form of support for this grassroots effort came as a result of Kelly Anne’s obituary notice. Almost $8,000 was contributed as seed money for the Fund at that time.
One year after Kelly Anne’s death, the Dolans' third daughter was born on October 8, 1977, and at the age of four months developed the same disease that took her sister’s life. Kimmy Dolan was sick for nearly five years, following in Kelly Anne’s course of many hospitalizations and weekly and sometimes daily blood transfusions. In 1982, at the age of four, Kimmy required a bone-marrow transplant and the family was sent to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, Washington. Joe Dolan served has his daughter’s donor. He was a partial match. The Dolans spent four months living in Seattle during Kimmy’s hospitalization—away from their home outside of Philadelphia and away from their printing and packaging business. Kimmy’s last transfusion was on August 26, 1982. On August 6, 2013, Kimmy celebrated her eighth wedding anniversary with husband Sean.
In October 2013 the Kelly Anne Dolan Memorial Fund celebrated 37 years of operation. Our story began with one little girl and her family, but it has grown to be so much bigger than that. Kelly's life and loving spirit inspired a mission that has touched more than 22,000 families, providing hope, love, and support for children and their parents since 1976.