One gallon jug of pop can tabs can help families of sick children stay one night at the Ronald McDonald House in Jackson while undergoing cancer treatments at local hospitals.
“I have been one of those children in need and my parents have been those struggling parents,” said Ashley Thomas. “It is truly hard to understand the heartache, frustration and cost you endure with this type of illness unless you have actually been through it!”
Ashley Thomas was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in December 2002. Her cancer was an unusual case, because a germinoma tumor is not typically found in the brain.
Surgery and 28 radiation treatments not only destroyed her tumor, but also her pituitary gland, which regulates growth, development and a number of other important functions.
She also lost all of her hair and gained 15 pounds in a two week period due a variety of steroid medications.
“I take seven medications a day just to I can lead a ‘normal life,’” Thomas said. “I will take most of these medications for the duration of my life.”
Due to the damaged pituitary gland, she also takes growth hormone shots, which accelerated her scoliosis. For the past three years, she has had to wear a back brace at night in an effort to stop the progression of the disease.
All of her treatments took place at Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital in Jackson.
Three weeks after surgery, Thomas was able to return home, but was required to return to the hospital every day, Monday through Friday, to complete the radiation treatments.
“We were offered a place at the Ronald McDonald House, but my mom chose not to,” Thomas said.
Her mother had two strong reasons for not staying at the Ronald McDonald House — she felt they could afford to stay in a hotel and didn’t want to take someone else’s place that didn’t have other options. Secondly, Thomas had a younger brother at home who had rarely seen his family in the three weeks since she was diagnosed.
“Mom felt it was important to be home every night so we could eat dinner as a family,” Thomas said. “She tried to make everything as normal as possible under very abnormal circumstances.”
They drove five hours round trip from their home in Macon each day. A little later, she was diagnosed with non-contagious meningitis and hospitalized for an additional two weeks. Thomas said they learned the meningitis was not uncommon for people who have undergone brain surgery.
And then, on her 15th birthday, Thomas was involved in a terrible four-wheeler accident, which left her requiring 40 stitches in her face. It was back to Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital.
“The Lord was watching over me, because it is a miracle that I wasn’t killed,” Thomas said. “My mom has always told me that God has a special plan for me and I know that I will find out what that plan is one day.”
The Ronald McDonald House
The Ronald McDonald House has always had a soft spot in Thomas’ heart, due to her history, but it was a visit by a Ronald McDonald House representative to her school, Central Academy, that lead her down the path to philanthropy — but not directly.
Thomas is a 2010 graduate of Central Academy in Macon and a current freshman at Mississippi State University.
Several years ago, a Ronald McDonald House representative visited the school to share information about the pop top program. They left special containers to collect the pop tops.
While at Central Academy, Thomas would often volunteer to help clean the school over the summer. About four summers ago, she found those containers of pop tops collected by the school in a closet.
“I went online and researched the program,” Thomas said. “After that, I was hooked!”
She began putting pop top collection bins in the school cafeteria and the office.
“I use to drive everyone crazy by pulling their tabs off their cans during our lunch break,” Thomas said. “I made everyone in our community aware of the program.”
Thomas said if the community would help collect the tabs, she would deliver them to the Ronald McDonald House when she would go for her doctor’s appointments.
“I have walked through the Ronald McDonald house and have seen the impact RMH has on families and their children,” Thomas said. “The pop tab program is such a simple thing to do, and it helps so many people. In our economy today, it is hard to have extra cash to donate, but everyone drinks out of aluminum cans. It is a easy way to help others in need, you just have to get in the habit of saving them!”
KA’s join the collection
John Coleman, is a Kappa Alpha at MSU and a family friend of the Thomas’.
Last Spring, Coleman and several other KAs went to Thomas’ house to join the family, and the Coleman family, for dinner.
As was her custom, Thomas went around the room collecting the tabs off of everyone’s drink. One of the guys asked her why on earth she wanted them. She told her story. The guys started talking among themselves and asked Thomas for details.
“We have an abnormally large number of pop tops at a fraternity house, and it is easy to take off the pop top and place it in one of the containers around the house,” Coleman said. “It’s too easy not to do.”
Long story short, without informing Thomas, the KAs began collecting tons of pop tabs that they are donating to the Ronald McDonald House and want to challenge other MSU fraternities, sororities and student organizations to collect them as well.
While http://www.snopes.com  claims this is a fraudulent fund-rasing project, they are incorrect.
Go to http://www.ronaldmcdonaldhousems.com/poptabs.html  to see that it is, in fact, one of the fund-raising programs got RMH.
And one pound of pop tabs can provide one night’s stay at the Ronald McDonald House.They encourage the collection of pop tabs instead of entire aluminum cans, because the tabs are pure, high-quality aluminum, while the cans are a mixture of aluminum and other alloys, and bring less money.
In years past, the Mississippi Ronald McDonald House had asked volunteers to collect the tabs and bring to RMH who would take them to a recycling center to get the best price. Today, the Mississippi Ronald McDonald House asks volunteers to take their tabs to a local recycling center and have the checks made out to the RMH.
For more information about the pop tab program, call the Mississippi Ronald McDonald House at 601-981-5683.
“Ironically, the biggest struggles I have had to face in my life so far, are the very ones that have set the path for my future,” Thomas said.
Without medication, Thomas would not have grown any taller than a fifth grader and not developed physically.
“I have seen first hand the impact medicine can have on someone’s life,” Thomas said. “It can open up a whole new world of possibilities that may not have been available, even 10 years ago. It can be a factor between life and death. It can allow a child with a brain tumor live a normal happy life.”
Her goal is to earn a degree in pharmacy in order to help others in the same way she has been helped through advanced medicine.
“Medicine is a world of possibilities and I want to be part of this world that saves lives,” Thomas said. “It certainly saved mine.”
Whether it be in the field of research or dispensing medication, Thomas is passionate about learning all she can.
She said she knows the study of pharmacy can be difficult and will require more than the typical four years in college, but is looking forward to the challenge.
“Based on what I have dealt with so far in my life, I know I will get through this challenge as well,” Thomas said.
For more information about the Ronald McDonald House, go to http://www.ronaldmcdonaldhousems.com .