Compass to Care provides Dina dolls and more for cancer patients - FOX 29 News Philadelphia | WTXF-TV

Compass to Care provides Dina dolls, travel assistance to families battling cancer

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

When a child is diagnosed with cancer, treatment is often located hundreds if not thousands of miles away. Travel and accommodation costs can be overwhelming, not to mention the emotional toll.

But thanks to a homegrown Chicago charity and a very special doll, help is available.

Dina is more than just a doll - she's a constant companion for children battling cancer. She's also a symbol of Chicago based Compass to Care, a childhood cancer foundation that provides support and helps cover travel expenses for families.

Michelle Ernsdorff is the founder of Compass to Care. She battled childhood cancer at the tender age of 14 months and understands firsthand the sacrifices and overwhelming need for families stay together and be at their child's side.

"My parents experienced such hardship in trying to get me to the treatments because we ended up going for 18 months," Compass to Care founder Michelle Ernsdorff said. "One time my father ended up hitch hiking home because he didn't have the money for a bus."

Nearly 50 percent of all children live more than 60 miles from a treatment facility, and only a handful of hospitals nationwide specialize in certain rare pediatric cancers. That's where Compass to Care and the Dina Dolls step in.

Named after Ernsdorff's younger sister who was her travel companion and best friend during numerous trips for chemotherapy, the dolls are used to raise money to pay for lodging, food and travel for families.

Sarah and Kraig Balentyne are the proud parents of three very active and beautiful children.

Never in their wildest dreams did they expect to spend the past year traveling between Chicago and Texas. But when 3-year-old Grant was diagnosed with Spitzoid Melanoma, a very rare cancer that spread quickly to his lymph nodes, they had to travel for treatment.

"The best way to describe it is absolutely devastating," Sarah Balentyne said. "I didn't know what to do. I just cried for well over a day straight. I was in shock and I was looking for answers."

That's when Sarah turned to Compass to Care.

"Financially we would have never been able to go down to Texas where he has the best treatment possible without Compass to Care," Balentyne said.

Grant's family has spent months away from home with him in Texas. Dina Dolls accompanied Grant and his two sisters during each time. They were a gentle reminder that someone in Chicago has their backs while they take time off to give Grant the support he needs.

"They love the Dina Dolls they played with them all the time," Balentyne said. "They like the little note that's in the pocket."

The good news is, Grant is in remission. But he is also required to travel to Texas every three months for check-ups.

If you'd like to donate a Dina Doll to a child with cancer or buy one as a gift for your own child, visit

All of the proceeds go directly to allow families to travel and get the best treatment possible for their child.

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