The family of a 4-year-old boy who is recovering from cancer has a generous donor to thank for helping change their lives and get them back on their feet.
Harmon Jones was just 26-months-old when doctors discovered a tumor growing inside his sinuses and diagnosed him with a type of cancer called Alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, his parents Shaw and Heather Jones tell PEOPLE (the TV Show!).
"The ENT was like, 'Oh, no, rhabdomyosarcoma is really rare. It's like one in a million cancer. You don't need to worry about that,'" Heather recalls. "And then I did need to worry about it."
Adds Shaw: "We just had no idea what was about to hit us at all."
Over the next year and a half, the Joneses — including son Winston, 8 — remained by Harmon's side as he underwent weekly chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
But things became even more challenging for the family when the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. Shaw, who was employed as an actor in Los Angeles, watched as the entertainment industry came to a halt and production was shut down, with little to no opportunities available.
He also worked at two different restaurants but lost one job when COVID-19 forced the restaurant to close and later had his hours significantly reduced at the other gig.
"Shaw was in a bit of a daze for about three months," Heather says. "It was just very hard news to take."
"We were just trying to get back on our feet… and we had a GoFundMe that basically served as living expenses for the year. All the hospital bills are massive, we're on a payment plan," she adds. "It's just been really hard. Everything goes toward bills."
But things changed around Christmastime. After Harmon marked one year off treatment, Heather ran into Marla Knoll, a social worker at UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital.
"I ended up crying a little bit on her in the hallway and just said, 'I feel so badly that these kids are going to have a rough Christmas… I'm worried we won't pay the health insurance. I'm worried about gifts for them,'" Heather explains.
It was then that Knoll connected the Jones family to The Change Reaction.
Founded by Greg and Jodi Perlman of Los Angeles, the charity works by having donors give money to people facing severe financial crises in their community.
"When we started the Change Reaction, the goal was to lay the foundation for other wealthy people to join the movement so that they can start moving money back into their community," Greg explains. "We really try and empower people to do it. And once they do it, the feedback is, 'I've never felt anything quite like that in my entire life.'"
"Last year we were able to make over 3,000 grants to individuals," he adds. "We're hoping to do 10,000 grants this year."
Through Change Reaction's Angel Fund, Greg and Jodi initially gave $600 in Visa gift cards to the Jones family when they were in the hospital to help with expenses.
After hearing more about their situation, the Perlmans wanted to help again — so they agreed to pay for the Joneses health insurance of $747 for the next three months.
Then, after receiving a short thank you video from Harmon and his family, Greg and Jodi went a step further. Through Change Reaction and Greg's company, they raised a total of $13,500 in donations — and Greg and Jodi matched that with an additional $13,500 of their own money.
Half the money went to the Jones family, while the other half was donated to UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital in the family's name to honor the nurses who cared for Harmon.
"We were both really moved by this story," Greg says on behalf of his wife. "The thank-you note was unbelievable, with a video and the pictures of their son. And even as importantly, the pictures of the nurses on their discharge got to Jodi and I."
One of those nurses was Chelsea Tom, who says the Perlmans' gesture reminded the hospital staff of the good in the world.
"All the staff here are working so hard to care for everyone in this city. And to have a donation that'll make it easy for us to do so is really awesome," she says. "It gives you some hope in humanity, which we all need right now."
To make the exciting announcement, Greg and Jodi set up a Zoom call with the Jones family. There, they surprised them with news of the "life-changing" donation.
"I almost couldn't speak," recalls Heather. "In a time that has taken us to a level of anxiety that you can't imagine, to have that off of our worries, there aren't words to describe it… What they did was life-changing [and] we're grateful and appreciative."
"Having them help us like that made us able to breathe a little bit," says Shaw. "We haven't been able to breathe in so long… it just made it easier to get up in the morning knowing that we had a chance to tackle the days without that financial stress crushing us down."
Today, Harmon is on the road to recovery, his parents tell PEOPLE. His scans remain clear but his doctors continue to monitor his cancer due to its high rate of recurrence.
As for the Perlmans, they hope to maintain a connection with the Jones family.
"They have a village behind them… there's a company of people that were all moved by their story," Greg says. "And we really just hope that their son stays healthy and that their family is able to get back on their feet and to get back to working and resuming a normal life."
Adds Jodi: "We are just giving them all of our love, and we're a part of their community now and their life. And hopefully, we will be forever."
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