When Mark and Stacy Brunell's 6-week-old son Jacob had to be rushed to the emergency room for an upper respiratory infection in 1995, it left a lasting impression on them.
"As a parent, when you go through something like that, you hope that doctors taking care of your child are qualified, and you hope that the quality of health care at the hospital is good," said Brunell, who is starting quarterback for the Washington Redskins.
Fortunately for Jacob, he did receive quality health care and made a full recovery. However, some of the things that Mark and Stacy Brunell learned over the course of his treatment concerned them. Mark Brunell was playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars at the time, and both he and Stacy were stunned to learn that the Jacksonville hospital was not equipped with the kind of breathing machines that Jacob might need in case of emergency.
"The closest hospital with these machines was five hours away," said Stacy Brunell.
In 1997 the couple founded The Brunell Family Foundation to benefit critically ill children and their families. Over the last nine years, the Foundation has raised nearly $800,000 for charity. Through the Landstar Mark Brunell Charity Golf Tournament and other fund-raising events, the Foundation has benefited Wolfson Children's Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, the Ronald McDonald House and Dreams Come True.
WHEN MARK Brunell started as quarterback for the Redskins in 2004, he and his family moved into a home in Great Falls. He and Stacy wanted to find a local children's charity that could use financial help, and they both fell in love with the Children's Inn at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Md.
"It's an amazing place," said Stacy Brunell. "What they're doing for these families is incredible, because for the children that are staying there, this is their last chance … and the entire family gets to stay there. It's a nice place that fits a lot of different needs."
The Children's Inn is a private, non-profit organization that was founded in 1990 for children who are receiving newly developed therapies at the National Institutes of Health, which is considered to be the world's premier biomedical research facility. Since the children staying at The Inn are receiving experimental treatments and procedures, their medical care and accomodations are free. The concept behind The Inn is that children can leave their daily treatments and come home to a welcoming haven occupied by their family members.
"Children actually tolerate their therapies better when they can return home to The Inn, rather than stay in the hospital," said Dr. Lee Helman, chief of the Pediatric Oncology Branch and medical advisor to The Children's Inn.
Rooms at The Inn are equipped with kitchens so families can make home-cooked meals and eat together. In addition, The Inn runs special programs to make the lives of its young occupants a little bit better.
"Every child there and every sibling gets a key to a personal mailbox, and every morning they can get something out," said Stacy Brunell.
ON FRIDAY, Nov. 17, at the Tysons Corner Ritz-Carlton hotel, The Brunell Family Foundation will host "In the Huddle," a benefit that will raise funds for The Children's Inn. The event is offering guests the chance to learn about football from the wives of the players, Redskin trainers and Mark Brunell. There will be a cash bar and a live auction that includes such items as "Classroom Hero — Take Mark Brunell to School," "From Locker Room to Boardroom — Take Mark Brunell to Work," and a holiday home decorating package.
"We want to raise as much as possible, but this is our first event so we also want to make sure that we put on a good event so people will want to come back next year," said Mark.
Stacy Brunell said that they came up with the concept in the hopes that people will enjoy having the opportunity to learn about football in a different way. The event promises to feature many surprise activities.
"It's designed to be interactive," said Stacy Brunell. "It's not a sit-down dinner."
"In the Huddle" committee member Colleen Orme, also a resident of Great Falls, said that she thinks the event should be particularly appealing to women.
"It's a fun way to teach women about football," said Orme.
Mark Brunell said that putting on charitable events makes him feel good about using his National Football League (NFL) status for positive deeds.
"Being associated with the NFL makes people interested in coming to an event like this, so it's an opportunity to raise some funds," he said. "It's pretty cool to donate money to an organization like this where you know it's going to good use — and it really fits in line with the goal of our Foundation."