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When Edgar’s family learned that their sweet 14-year-old boy had cancer, they found themselves in a swirl of uncertainty. Their life was suddenly a sea of doctors, nurses, surgeries, chemotherapy, fear, and so many things they didn’t understand. But one calming presence has been there for them through it all: social worker Tovah Toomasson, LCSW, whom they call their “guardian angel.”

“Tovah helps us deal with the hardships and when we don’t know what is going on,” says Edgar’s mother, Felisa, through a medical interpreter. “She helps us find housing near the hospital, helps us with bills, and supports us through doctors’ updates.”

Toomasson visits Edgar, a sweet boy who loves soccer and going to the movies with his friends, as he battles cancer at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford. Her role? To support families like Edgar’s, whose lives have been turned upside down by their child’s illness.

Toomasson explains that before a family like Edgar’s can work through the emotional side of illness and hospitalization, they must have their basic needs met, from housing and transportation to child care for siblings.

“Most of the families I work with were perfectly self-sufficient before their child got sick,” says Toomasson. “But depending on the diagnosis, it’s very common for a parent to quit working to be with the child in the hospital. With the high cost of living in the Bay Area, how many families would be fine if that happened?”

Packard Children’s cares for all local children in need, regardless of their families’ status or ability to pay for treatment. And thanks to the generous support of donors like you, our hospital’s social workers are there to help families through their most difficult times.

“We speak to families even before they get their diagnosis,” Toomasson says. “We talk through potential scenarios and what they might need. And then once there is a diagnosis, we see what we can do to help take things off their plate.”

Felisa even recalled a time when her husband, Lorenzo, was so worried about Edgar that his stress manifested in stomach pains and high blood pressure. “Tovah said, ‘Your health is important, too,’ and she made sure he received medical treatment.”

Your gifts are deeply appreciated by Toomasson, her fellow social workers, and the patients they serve. “Every little bit helps,” she says. “A $25 gas card might mean a family can get to and from clinic visits three times. That’s so helpful.” 

In addition to meeting families’ basic needs, social workers also serve as licensed mental health clinicians, providing counseling, crisis intervention, or care coordination to make sense of the complicated and daunting health care system.

“We wear so many different hats,” says Toomasson. “We support families any way we can, and we have the luxury of seeing the families even after they leave the hospital. It is so rewarding to hear a parent say, ‘You were the first person who made us feel like we could make it through this.”’

How You Can Help

Your support gives patients and families life-saving care as well as social services that get them through tough times. Make your best Children’s Fund gift at

This article first appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of the Children's Fund Update.