Remembering Alissa – Five years later – By Jenny Johnson – It was not your typical lunch invitation. Rayma Hogan, a 37- year employee at Oakwood Hospital Wayne was invited to lunch in July by former Oakwood CEO Cathy Cronin and Jay Bonnell, controller, Oakwood Hospital, Wayne.
She was presented with a certificate that notified her that an Oakwood scholarship would be awarded annually in her name.
The certificate said, “The Oakwood Wayne Scholarship endowment in honor of Rayma Hogan is funded by Jay Bonnell in gratitude, to honor Rayma Hogan’s dedication to the patients and staff at Oakwood Hospital Wayne.
Earnings from the fund will be used to provide an annual scholarship, ensuring a culture of quality and innovation as well as the highest quality and the safest patient care at Oakwood Healthcare, Inc. for generations.”
One Oakwood Wayne employee will be awarded the scholarship each year to help further their education.
“Oakwood does offer several scholarships and now one is in my name. I have always dreamed of doing something like this,” she said.
Hogan is the administrative assistant for the director of patient care at Oakwood Wayne and was presented with this honor because she has always demonstrated excellent service. The first scholarship will be presented next spring.
“I am proud of that. I have had some amazing things happen to me this year,” she said.
This year has also brought some personal accomplishments for Hogan. She has begun a venture in motivational speaking and is writing an inspirational book.
The book is in honor of her granddaughter, Alissa Jennings, who passed away from a brain tumor five years ago this month. The title of book is “Loyalty- Alissa’s Spirit” and is dedicated to “my loyalty to my granddaughter and my promise to help Alissa’s mission of helping children and animals.”
“It tells Alissa’s stories and how she helped others along the way,” Rayma said.
In her book, the first chapter is about faith and personal relationships with God. The whole book is based around loyalty with chapters on family, friends and social media.
“We may all believe different but we can all do simple things to make the world a better place,” she said. Alissa taught her that lesson. Even as sick as she was, she continued to make a difference.
Even though she was not in school once she got sick, she still wanted to save box tops to help Hoover Elementary raise money.
“She would say, ‘Grandma these are very important and we have to save them. I still save them and give them to Hoover once a year,” she said. “We can learn from all of our children to make the world a better place.“
“I believe Alissa was an angel on Earth. She wanted to be a nurse. She was spending the night at my house and a neighbor had a bloody foot from weed whacking with bare feet,” she said. The neighbor came to Rayma’s door.
“Alissa said ‘Get out of my way grandma because I am going to be a nurse,’” she said.
In honor of the fifth anniversary of Alissa’s death Rayma wants to help spread Alissa’s message of hope.
“Her spirit stays alive and is not forgotten. Her hopes and dreams will come through fruition through her friends and family,” she said. The family did Relay for Life for two years and a fundraiser for Pediatric Brain Cancer research.
Each year on Sept. 19 the family and friends gather at Hoover Elementary School. They gather around the tree planted in her honor to release balloons, lanterns or light candles.
“Alissa was such a big part of the community,” Rayma said. In addition to numerous fundraisers, Alissa got the chance to attend the Jonas’ Brothers Concert and have a surprise party at school with a Miss America contestant, all provided by caring members of the Wayne community.
“It is still hard,” Rayma said. The family- her mom, dad and sister, Brooke, just continues to try to get on with their daily life each and every day.”
Alissa would have been a freshman at Wayne Memorial High School this year.
Alissa was born on Feb. 25, 2000. She was a fourth grader at Hoover Elementary School when she was diagnosed on Sept. 22, 2008 with Atypical Teratoid Rhabdoid Tumor (AR/TR). This is a highly malignant and aggressive brain tumor that grows at a rapid rate and is found primarily in children.
Her symptoms began with a headache, vomiting and sensitivity to light.
At the time Alissa’s mom, Nicole Jennings, said, “I took Alissa to the hospital in sunglasses and with a blanket covering her head to block the light. It came out of nowhere.”
Alissa went through chemotherapy, radiation and a 12-hour brain surgery to fight the tumor.
“She had surgery but they couldn’t get all of it out and the part that was left was treated with radiation and chemo. By Christmas time it shrunk but after the first of the year it came back with a vengeance,” Rayma said. “They kept trying to treat it and it was horrible for her little body. It was a nightmare to watch her struggle and fight.”
Through it all she never complained.
She died on Sept. 19, 2009. In her short life she loved, laughed and took care of others.
Just three weeks before she died she attended the Wayne Wheelfest. There was a Chicken Dinner fundraiser for her and she wanted to make an appearance. She spent the afternoon swinging on the swings and riding on the carnival rides just like any other kid.
But she also helped a kid who got sick on a ride. She got him a washcloth and sat with him until his parents came, Rayma said. Just like the caring and compassionate person she was.
“I never had confidence in myself but Alissa was my biggest fan. For a little girl she helped make me and others better people,” she said.
The last time Alissa stayed the night at her grandparent’s house was June 29.
“I marked it on my calendar and haven’t changed it since then,” Rayma said. By coincidence or divine intervention Rayma booked her first speaking engagement on June 29 a few years later. The proceeds from the event went to teen pregnancy.
“Alissa would have been proud,” she said.