Emerson Ake smiles in his cub scout uniform in Sequim. Ake and his family have temporarily moved to Bellevue as he battles leukemia at the Seattle Children’s Hospital. (Ake family)

Emerson Ake smiles in his cub scout uniform in Sequim. Ake and his family have temporarily moved to Bellevue as he battles leukemia at the Seattle Children’s Hospital. (Ake family)

Peninsula a beacon to family in leukemia struggle

GoFundMe site raises money to help household stay together

SEQUIM — When the Ake family arrived in Sequim, it seemed like it would be the last of many changes.

Greg Ake moved from being an intelligence analyst in the U.S. Navy to working in cybersecurity, and Jaime Ake was home with the children ever since their first-born, Emerson, came early at just 27 weeks.

“I stopped working so I could be at the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) with him every day,” Jaime said.

Prior to Sequim, they had landed in Texas, where it was so hot that the children — Emerson, 13; Jameson, 10; Arden, 6; and Amelia, 4; — had to spend most of their time indoors. Jaime looked for a place where they could spend more time outdoors and grow up surrounded by nature.

She found the Olympic Peninsula, and the family moved to Sequim in 2000.

“Sequim is the most perfect place to raise children for us and every day I woke up so crazy thankful to be there and get to spend my days exploring the (Pacific Northwest) with my family … It is truly the most amazing place I’ve ever lived in or even known about,” Jaime said in an email interview.

“I love how the mountains are on one side with the Pacific (Ocean) on the other. I love the Farmers Market, shopping for groceries at Sunny Farms, doing yoga in the park at Jardin Du Soliel Lavender Farm, and buying gifts for friends and family at the shops downtown. It’s so peaceful, safe and quiet … No other place will ever compare.”

But everything changed when Emerson was found to have B cell lymphoblastic leukemia.

Five of the six-member Ake family pose outside the Seattle Children’s hospital. Emerson Ake, front, is battling leukemia with quiet courage and good humor, and his family has temporarily moved from Sequim to stay together. (Ake family)

Five of the six-member Ake family pose outside the Seattle Children’s hospital. Emerson Ake, front, is battling leukemia with quiet courage and good humor, and his family has temporarily moved from Sequim to stay together. (Ake family)

Seattle Children’s Hospital

The treatment has a high success rate, but it can take up to three years at Seattle’s Children’s Hospital to defeat.

Emerson and his mother spent a month and half at the Seattle Ronald McDonald House while the younger children stayed in Sequim with Greg, who runs his own business, Level Effect, from home. He’s also employed by a cyber-security company.

Ordinarily, the entire family could have stayed at the Seattle Ronald McDonald house — which offers free services for families who live at least 45 miles away — during a time like this.

“Unfortunately, the infectious nature of COVID has changed how we serve families for the time being,” said Heather Bauer, director of annual giving with the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Western Washington and Alaska.

“At the guidance of our partner, Seattle Children’s Hospital, we have limited families to one patient and two caregivers only,” to protect immunocompromised patients.

Bellevue move

This extended separation has been difficult for the close-knit family, particularly for the younger children.

The Akes decided that, to stay together, they had to give up their rental home in Sequim.

“Everybody misses them,” said Ursula Naylor, the Akes’ neighbor, “all the neighbors. But Jaime said, ‘We’re going to get through this treatment, and we’ll be back.’ ”

It costs $4,000 a month for a normal house in Bellevue right now, according to Jaime’s friend Beth Vogel — double the price of their rental home in Sequim.

“The market is insane right now,” Vogel said.

It was difficult for the Akes to find a place, Vogel said, “but thankfully they found something.”

With rent doubled and out-of-pocket medical costs more than $10,000 in network, expenses quickly piled up for the Akes. Greg had to reduce his working time, so one parent could be present while the other was going to the hospital or running errands.

In the crowded Seattle area during COVID, that necessitated another vehicle.

GoFundMe

Back in Sequim, Emerson’s scout leader, Rene Nadon, brought up the idea of a GoFundMe campaign, which Vogel created on Aug. 15.

The site at gofundme.com/f/keeping-the-ake-family-together-under-one-roof had raised $14,385 of a $45,000 goal as of Sunday.

The fund goal is high because the family has several years of financial challenge ahead, organizers said.

“The immediate neighbors have all donated to it, but it just didn’t take off,” Naylor said.

“They’re a great family, and whatever we can do to get them through this tough period will be wonderful.”

Rhythm of life

Jaime has established a rhythm of life at the new house, which is a “gorgeous property” with room for everyone, including an office for Greg, Vogel said. Emerson has a big room on the main floor.

The family has settled into a routine of homeschooling, taking care of Emerson as he struggles with the side-effects of the treatment as well as chores and entertainment.

Meanwhile, Sequim beckons.

“My heart says Sequim is our forever home, it just may take a few years to be able to go back safely,” Jaime wrote. “Emerson isn’t considered cured until he has been cancer-free for five years, which won’t be until he is almost 19.

“That said, we talk every day about getting back to Sequim. We still look at real estate listings, and we’re going to try to move back the absolute earliest we can.

“I can’t really put into words why I love Sequim as much as I do, all I know is that my soul feels like ‘yes. Here. This is where you’re supposed to be.’ … I’ve learned to listen to my intuition, and I know Sequim will always be home for our family.”

A path at the wildlife refuge on Voice of America Road in Sequim, one of the Ake family’s favorite places to go in Sequim. (Emily Matthiessen/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

A path at the wildlife refuge on Voice of America Road in Sequim, one of the Ake family’s favorite places to go in Sequim. (Emily Matthiessen/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

________

Emily Matthiessen is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach her at emily.matthiessen@sequimgazette.com.

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