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Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of four feature stories on this year’s Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award Presented by Nationwide finalists.
A pediatric feeding disorder is not the first medical condition to result in varying diagnoses. Nor will it be the last. But Shannon Goldwater is committed to the goal of minimizing the number of times that happens when it comes to this serious medical challenge, after having gone through an experience no parent — or their child — should have to face.
Goldwater and her husband’s lives were changed when their triplets’ lives were in danger of ending. After the premature infants, born in 2002, survived complicated surgeries, they then began a perilous struggle with pediatric feeding disorders. Seeking medical care for pediatric feeding disorders was frustrating. Diagnoses varied as did the treatments, which produced inconsistent results.
“They were born four months premature,” Goldwater says. “We were then totally unaware of pediatric feeding disorders. The children just didn’t eat. And certainly at that point if you said a child didn’t eat you would think they were severely impaired. I never even knew that eating could be a problem, or that it could become such a big part of our lives. It really took over our lives. We were worried about them surviving. For the first eight years of our children’s lives there wasn’t a single day [without a problem].”
After several years of unending medical challenges, in 2006 Goldwater founded the Scottsdale, Arizona-based “Feeding Matters” organization that promotes advances against pediatric feeding disorders by accelerating identification and accurate diagnoses from the get-go and then promotes research and care. She wanted to help others avoid the arduous journey her family has traveled by combining the efforts of other families, medical professionals, feeding therapists and engaged volunteers.
Make no mistake, she has helped.
Feeding Matters began with Goldwater and three other volunteers. The organization now annually reaches more than 65,000 people — family members and medical professionals.
Goldwater, 44, is one of four most-deserving finalists for The NASCAR Foundation’s Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award Presented by Nationwide. The award honors NASCAR fans who are also accomplished volunteers working for children’s causes in their communities throughout the United States. It also honors the memory and the philanthropic legacy of the foundation’s late founder, Betty Jane France, who passed away last August.
On Thursday, Nov. 30, the award winner will be announced during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Awards at Wynn Las Vegas. The winner will be determined by online voting at NASCAR.com/Award; voting ends on Nov. 29 at 5 p.m. ET. The NASCAR Foundation donates $100,000 to the charity the winner represents and $25,000 to the other finalists’ charities.
“Winning the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award would be transformational for our organization,” Goldwater says. “It would mean the world to us. Just to be nominated and have a chance to win the award is a victory for us, in and of itself.”
Goldwater is a volunteer leader who has provided more than 7,000 hours of service since Feeding Matters’ inception, having personally mentored more than 100 families dealing with pediatric feeding disorders, connecting them with resources, providing emotional support and perhaps most importantly, ensuring that their voices are heard by medical professionals. Goldwater has received a number of accolades for her tireless efforts, including the Oley Foundation Advocator Award, the Girls Scouts Women of Distinction Award and the Daily Point of Light Award.
She has a link to another leader in her home state. Her husband Bob is the great nephew of the late Barry Goldwater, the longtime United States Senator from Arizona who was the 1964 Republican presidential nominee.
As far as her connection to NASCAR, Goldwater’s brother-in-law, Dr. John Beezley, works at Texas Motor Speedway’s infield care center during NASCAR race weekends. She also has identified closely with the story of NASCAR driver Dave Smith, who has raised awareness for pediatric feeding disorders due to his daughter’s struggles with the problem. Goldwater’s favorite driver is Danica Patrick, who lived in Scottsdale for a number of years.
Whatever funds Feed Matters receives from the award competition will go toward funding programs and initiatives that foster earlier diagnosis, reduce barriers to care and enhance family support for those affected by pediatric feeding disorders. Goldwater can attest to the importance of it all, particularly the support that is needed, often long term. Her three children, now 15 years old, are doing well. Although her two sons are still on feeding tubes while her daughter was removed in 2010.
“We are clear on our mission,” Goldwater says. “This issue exists. … It is a real condition.”