A grant from AFAS helps a special girl receive much-needed therapy

Nine years ago, Rebecca Sundhagen and her former spouse Lieutenant Colonel Chad Grondahl adopted their daughter, Lauralei, when she was five weeks old. Lauralei was born with a heart defect that would require open heart surgery, and she spent the first two months of her life in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Over the next few years, Lauralei would have two open heart surgeries, two heart catheterizations and two hospitalizations for pneumonia. She also has a sensory processing disorder, a visual processing disorder, a speech delay, numerous fine motor and gross motor delays and other serious medical conditions.

Rebecca learned everything she could to help their daughter thrive in spite of all her challenges while also raising their adopted son, Christopher, who had his own “complex medical needs, a long NICU stay and attachment issues,” Rebecca says.

Rebecca only sees the strength in their children as she watches them navigate their challenges. She recalls Lauralei’s second open heart surgery when she was three. Within 24 hours after the surgery, Lauralei walked the hospital halls in her bathrobe, trailed by her IV pole. She was discharged from the hospital in four days, packing her own bags, “dragging her big red wagon full of gear,” Rebecca says. “She is a survivor and an inspiration.”

Both of the children have benefited from various therapies, such as lessons at a therapeutic riding stable and play therapy. Unfortunately, these programs are not usually covered by insurance.

Rebecca is always looking for sources to help cover the costs of the therapies that her children need. “While I found many ways to reduce our budget, getting my kids the therapy they needed was an area I never considered cutting,” she says.

Rebecca recently reached out to her Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) Coordinator on Schriever Space Force Base for financial assistance options to help with the expensive therapies. The coordinator put Rebecca in touch with the Air Force Aid Society (AFAS), whose mission it is to help Airmen, Guardians and their families.

AFAS provided a no-interest loan, which was later converted to a grant, allowing Rebecca to pay for the listening therapy that was recommended by Lauralei’s occupational therapist. Rebecca hopes that this will assist with their daughter’s array of developmental delays.

“We would never know what potential successes she might experience or gains she could make through her hours of listening,” Rebecca says of the important new therapy that she would not have been able to afford otherwise.

Fortunately, AFAS was able to offer some relief for this mom who has been a tireless advocate for their children for the past nine years. With the therapy grant, “AFAS stepped up for my family in a very surprising and meaningful way,” Rebecca says gratefully.

To the Society’s generous donors, Rebecca is thankful for the assistance and the opportunities they helped to provide because of their support. “It means the world to brave warriors like Lauralei!”

Incorporated in 1942, the Air Force Aid Society continues to meet the unique needs of Airmen and Guardians. AFAS works to support and enhance the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force missions by providing emergency financial assistance, educational support, and community programs to Air Force and Space Force families. In 2022, AFAS provided over $12.5 million in assistance to more than 17,000 Air Force and Space Force families. Visit www.afas.org to learn more, apply for assistance, or to donate.