The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 27, 2013

Heart for kids: Family faces medical challenge after more than 20 years of housing foster children

By Kevin McClintock
Globe Staff Writer

SENECA, Mo. — A Newton County couple has raised four daughters, adopted nine boys and girls and foster-cared more than 200 children over a span of 20 years. In that time, Mike and Sandi Simpson have done a lot of good for a lot of people, said daughter Darci Brown.

"If somebody needed help, my parents would help them," Brown said. "They would do whatever they could to help. They never worried about themselves."

Then, on March 12, Mike was diagnosed with advanced Stage 4 renal cell carcinoma (kidney cancer). The cancer has spread to his right lung.

"Now, things are reversed," Brown said. "Now, it's my parents who are the ones needing help."

Crowded house

Darci was attending fifth grade when her parents sheltered their first foster child. From that moment on, up until Darci moved out of her parents' house, it was a "steady stream" of faces. Some of the children stayed for more than a year. Others were emergency-care children, who would stay in the home, at most, for 30 days.

"I would wake up and there would be someone new in the house almost regularly," she said.

In all, the Simpsons fostered 215 children before they lost their license. Brown said because of their big hearts, her parents had adopted too many of those foster-care children Ñ six in all Ñ including three more nieces and nephews.

"It really didn't bother me," she said. "I had my own room, and if I needed to get away, I could. My parents were real good about giving us our space."

She said she was used to the comings and goings of faces inside her childhood home.

"It was normal to me. It wasn't different," she said. "My parents don't like sending kids to someone else. I mean, they were a family. They wanted everyone to stay together. They tried not to shuffle the kids around more than what was absolutely necessary."

For her mother, raising the children Ñ her children, the foster children and, later, her adopted children Ñ become her career.

"And my dad has just been along for the ride," she said with a laugh. Yet living inside their crowded home was "just how we did life. It was very normal for us. And I saw what a lot of these kids were going through. You see what they're gong through, and you have a heart for them.

"Some of their stories," she said, "would just break your heart."

Sudden sickness

At the end of 2012, Darci's father began complaining about a lingering flu. He was working at Quality Petroleum in Joplin at the time, a 20-year veteran there, and he was trying to push through the sickness.

"Finally he called my mom and said he needed to go see a doctor," she said. "He just couldn't do it anymore."

After an examination, Mike was originally diagnosed with congestive heart failure and was told he had an enlarged heart. He also had fluid in his right lung.

After a follow-up examination, however, his diagnosis was switched. He wasn't suffering from congestive heart failure, but doctors weren't really sure what was wrong with him. They listed a bunch of potential ailments, and Mike had symptoms for some of them, but nothing really added up.

"I mean, it was ranging from cancer to anything you could imagine," she said. "And we would look it up and say, ÔWell, yeah, he has some of those symptoms, but not all of them.'"

Twice Mike had his lung drained, but the fluid kept building back up. Because of that, his doctor finally decided to take a peek inside his chest.

"And when they did that, they said (Mike's) whole right lung was covered in cancer. They told us they wouldn't be surprised at all if it wasn't mesothelioma," she said.

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that's caused by exposure to asbestos dust or fibers. Rapid build up of fluid in the lungs is one of the symptoms.

"So we were preparing for that because we knew the outcome of that isn't very good," she said. "My mom was in a pretty bad depression there for a while."

But two weeks later, Mike's diagnosis was changed again. Mesothelioma was cast aside, and taking its place was renal cell carcinoma Ñ kidney cancer.

"The (cancerous) spot on his kidney is very small, about the size of a pencil eraser," she said. "But it has spread, and his whole right lung is now encased with it. (The cancer) has also gotten into his joints."

Because of the sickness, Mike was forced to quit his job. He had been the family's sole provider of income.

Now, Mike and Sandi are desperately clinging to their house that's been home to nearly 230 children. For some of those children, the Seneca house at 7272 Coyote Drive has been their only home.

Hope and healing

Right now, Darci's parents only source of income is through Social Security. They are in danger of losing their home, on which they still owe about $130,000, she said.

"The biggest thing we're hoping to do is to get the house paid off," she said. "After all they've done, after all they've helped and gone through, they can't lose that house."

A benefit rummage sale for the Simpson family was held earlier this month at the Carousel Kids store inside West Plaza Shopping Center on Seventh Street. The event included a raffle, silent auction and labor auction; items made available included home furnishings, Branson show tickets, jewelry and shoes.

Enough money was generated, she said, to pay the house bills "for another three months."

But they need additional help.

"Our primary goal is to save the house," she said. "I think if they can get the house paid off they could manage the rest. Feeding (all the kids) and the electric (bill), it's high, but if the house payments were gone, that would take off a huge stress."

Losing the house, she said, would affect everyone in the house. And decades of memories would be lost.

Darci said her dad's spirits remain high.

"He says he's not giving up. We have him here right now, and that's all that matters. We would like to be the exception to the rule Ñ we're believing in a miracle."

Brown is collecting contributions for the Simpson family. She can be contacted at 417-529-5562.