Nicole Hammond had been like a mother to her much younger siblings, so becoming a foster parent while she worked for the Clark County Department of Family Services made sense. One day, an adorable 3-year-old boy came into the agency. All of her co-workers insisted she see how cute he was.
“They dragged me from my desk, and the moment I saw him, his eyes looked at me, and my eyes looked at him, and I instantly knew that was my son,” she said.
She and her husband, Brian, adopted the boy, Taylor. After Taylor, they adopted four other children and are in the process of adopting more. Nicole, 31, joked that she’s spent the past seven years dealing with diapers every day.
ANSWERING A CALLING
Some of the children are half-siblings, and all have special needs.
“However they started is not where they’re going to finish,” Nicole said. “We’re fighting addiction; we’re fighting mental health issues, physical issues from marinating in alcohol and drugs while in gestation. That’s what it was — meth, crack and alcohol — so, we’re dealing with a lot. … I feel like this was something we were called to do.”
The Hammonds have a home accounting business, which means at least one of them is there with the home-schooled children at all times.
Nicole’s friends joke that she decided to have an instant family of toddlers because she was then in her 20s and “young enough to chase after them.”
But there were more challenges to come.
Around Christmas 2012, the usually hyperactive Taylor was a little under the weather. By January, he was acting sluggish. In February, he grabbed his chest and cried out in pain. Nicole rushed him to the hospital, where he was admitted in critical condition. She stayed by his side in intensive care as tests were run. The verdict: a rare and aggressive form of blood cancer called T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
“It was like being hit by a Mack truck,” she said of getting the news. “Then I went through this whole guilt trip, thinking … ‘I should have caught it earlier’ and all that.”
She and Brian took turns being at the hospital on 24-hour watch, what they called Team Hammond.
The only thing that could possibly save the then-6-year-old was a bone marrow transplant. With it, Taylor had a 60 percent chance of survival. But the chances of finding someone to match him, the family was told, was 1 in 17 million.
WAITING FOR A MATCH
Now, Taylor is in and out of the hospital, getting treatment and hoping for a match. His doctor, Jonathan Bernstein, a pediatric hematologist-oncologist at the Children’s Medical Center at Summerlin Hospital, 657 N. Town Center Drive, said patients are most likely to find a matching donor from their own ethnic background, but there is a severe shortage of minority donors.
Taylor is part black and part Asian. A woman was identified who matched all his markers, but she changed her mind about donating. So Taylor, now 7, waits.
All she can do, Nicole said, is live day to day and pray. The latter may sound cliche, but she said it has helped before. She credits her faith with putting her in the path of others who are able to help.
One day, she was leaving the grocery store with a few essentials when another shopper admired the children and handed her $60 to buy more food for them. Another time, a stranger knocked on their front door and handed them $100. Last year, when the couple didn’t know how they’d pay that month’s rent, a man learned of Taylor’s situation and deposited $20,000 in an account for them. It enabled them to catch up on all their bills and keep their vehicle.
“There are times when things are tight — like, every month — but when I look over our journey, I can honestly say we’ve never gone without,” Nicole said. “We’re spiritual. I know God will provide.”
Last year, the family moved from its longtime northwest home to Summerlin to be closer to the Children’s Medical Center. Taylor receives chemotherapy while he waits for the bone marrow match that could save his life.
OTHER INSPIRING MOMS
Dr. Andrew Cash of the Desert Institute of Spine Care said he always knew he’d grow up to be a doctor.
His mom, Barbara, had him when she was 19. A single mother, she relied on her parents to help raise him while she earned a nursing degree. She is still a nurse in Tennessee, and Cash credits her influence for his career choice.
“I remember her studying from these funky-looking psychedelic books from the ’70s,” he said. “… And when she went to get her degree, I went to graduation with her. I wanted to wear her graduation hat.”
His mother would occasionally take him with her to the hospital, where he received lots of attention.
“It was fun,” he said. “… It gave me an idea of how people were functioning in the hospital, working as a team.”
Did his mother instill in him any particular piece of advice?
“You mean, besides, ‘Be nice to nurses?’ ” he joked. “No, really, I think it would be: Have compassion for your patients.”
Camille Duskin, president of the Gateway Arts Foundation, wrote View about her mother, Hattie McGuire. McGuire was a businesswoman at a time when most women didn’t work outside the home.
“When it comes to great mothers, I feel mine is at the top of the list,” Duskin wrote. “I, of course, have a very unobjective perspective. Although my parents were divorced when I was very young (unbelievable, but 24 years later, they remarried each other right here in Las Vegas. I was their witness), my mother always made me feel that I could accomplish anything. She was a great example of this thought as she became a very successful woman in business. She instilled within me the value of the arts — I studied ballet with the finest teachers in Hollywood and also piano at the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music.
“… We always shared the appreciation of artists and all art forms: attending concerts, ballets, plays, lectures and galleries. In her 80s, we continued to enjoy these activities, even sharing her final Mother’s Day in celebration at the House of Blues Gospel Brunch, where she was honored as the oldest mother (and most beautiful, I must add).”
Duskin said the Gateway Arts Foundation’s Hattie’s House venue serves a tribute to her mother.
“Here, our Gateway Arts Foundation provides a beautiful venue for private concerts and recitals,” she wrote. “This has become a loved and treasured home, encouraging the arts in Las Vegas — always under the watchful eyes of a portrait of my dear mother.”
Shaun Bruce wrote that her mother, Michele Bruce, has always put her children’s needs before her own.
“Growing up in Southern California, we were very lucky to have grown up in a beautiful neighborhood filled with kids,” she wrote. “There were 40-plus kids just in our small cul-de-sac. My mom made our home a home for all the kids. Our house and pool became the hangout for everyone. She acted as the neighborhood lifeguard, full-time short-order cook, driver and camp counselor for all the kids growing up on Verona Lane.
“… As I got older, I relied on my mom to provide me guidance. … She became my guidance counselor of life without me even knowing it. When I needed her most, during those pivotal years of high school and college, she gave me the tools of her wisdom through her advice but the space for me to pick my own path. She was always been there for me when I stumbled, not to judge but to help me find my balance and send me back out into the world again to give it another try.
“Now that I am a mother, I can better understand the time, love, patience, sacrifices and tribulations that being a mom entails. As I find myself struggling to find my ‘mommy balance,’ I not only have my mom’s examples as a foundation to rely upon, but I have her to lean on each and every day. She is my mom and now my best friend. I am truly blessed to have such a wonderful person in my life.”