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Interior designer gives young patients a healthier environment

Bryan Kotrla got a text one day in December 2017: “Call me.” It was from his longtime friend Rainey Richardson, who had a question that wasn’t really a question at all.

A teacher-turned-interior designer and home-furnishings-showroom owner, Richardson had decided it was time to launch her own philanthropic effort, and she wanted to start with the Kotrla family.

“I am lucky enough to have my career and my passion line up perfectly,” said Richardson, who has three grown children. “One of the things I truly believe is that your space affects your mental health and your physical health.”

Richardson took on design jobs while a teacher and eventually left that profession to launch Rainey Richardson Interiors. She and her husband, Tom Richardson, also own the Off White showroom at the Houston Design Center, where her interior design business is located.

She’s setting up her Room to Dream effort as a 501c3 nonprofit and her focus is clear: creating healthy spaces for ill, homebound school-age children. She finished a dramatic room makeover for Kotrla’s daughter, Brooke — a brain cancer patient — and next year will do two room makeovers, increasing it each year until she does one quarterly.

Richardson doesn’t hold fundraisers, instead paying for nearly everything out of her own pocket. Each project will have a budget of $10,000 to $12,000, and medical professionals at Texas Children’s Hospital will help identify future patient-recipients.

For now 22-year-old Brooke, the project was a bright spot in a tough period in her young life. It gave her a healthier place to live and something beautiful to take her mind off of difficult medical treatments.

As a freshman at Texas Tech University, Brooke was living her dream: a dance major, she was also on the university’s nationally competitive pom squad. Her busy schedule included morning dance classes, afternoon core courses and pom practices into the early evening, but she was unusually tired and couldn’t explain why.

She quit the pom squad when she just couldn’t keep up and transferred to Texas State University in San Marcos for her sophomore year because it was closer to home. But life there only got worse: Once an honor roll student, she was on the verge of failing.

“I never felt good. I don’t even know how to explain it. I couldn’t stay awake,” Brooke said, noting frequent headaches, seeing weird lights and sometimes feeling like she was floating.

She returned home at the end of her sophomore year in May 2017, and her parents realized how bad it had gotten.

Deanna Kotrla took her daughter to the emergency room, where an MRI showed a big white spot on her brain: a grade 2 diffuse astrocytoma, a slow-growing tumor that she might have had for a decade.

Deanna went into full mama-bear mode, calling a friend who’d started the Broach Foundation for Brain Cancer Research after her own husband died from glioblastoma. She got the name of Dr. Fred Lang, chief of neurosurgery at MD Anderson Cancer Center, who, coincidentally was the keynote speaker at the Broach Foundation annual gala that Deanna had just attended.

When they shaved her head for surgery and radiation made the rest of her hair patchy and thin, Brooke put on a hat and a big smile and kept moving forward. Now a junior, Brooke is back at Texas Tech as a part-time online student.

Before her room makeover, she had fairly plain walls and white IKEA furniture. Carpet that can harbor dust and bacteria has been replaced by tile flooring and walls were painted with healthier, zero-VOC paint. There’s a glamorous accent wall with Ellie Cashman’s large-scale floral wallpaper. New nightstands are covered in mirrors, and a big armoire holds all of the things that used to fill her dresser.

Dangling from the ceiling is a sparkling “fandelier” made of chrome and crystal with an ionizing fan hidden in the center. Even her bathroom was remodeled, adding a high-tech mirror over her sink and gorgeous mother-of-pearl tile around the shower.

For a while the installation date was uncertain, and when Richardson finally settled on a day in late May to set up the new room, she had no idea of its significance. Exactly one year earlier, Brooke was given her diagnosis.

“That’s when you know there’s something bigger than you at play. They were not looking forward to that day. You have no idea how many times I’ve choked up over this,” Richardson said. “I feel so lucky to be able to impact someone’s life. It is the greatest gift that you can have in this life.”

By Diane Cowen

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