By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer
Chris Killian dreamed big but had modest goals when she and her family decided to try to make the holidays a little nicer for pediatric patients at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh.
It turns out many in the community shared her dream and the effort succeeded beyond any expectations they had.
Through the efforts of the Killian Foundation and its supporters, the foundation was able to collect enough money and gifts to provide a present for every patient in the hospital.
“We thought we were going to help a few,” said Killian, of Hermitage. “The community input was amazing.”
The effort redirects the support for the Killian family received when daughter Lauren was diagnosed in April 2011 with brain cancer. Shortly after the diagnosis, the Kevin Flower Memorial stepped forward and asked to hold a fundraiser for Lauren.
“Complete, total strangers,” Chris Killian said of the Flower foundation. “We were absolutely overwhelmed.”
That overwhelming gesture turned to inspiration and the Killian Foundation was formed to provide financial assistance to families with children being treated at Children’s.
Flash forward to just before Thanksgiving, when the Killians were having dinner with Lauren’s doctor, Regina Jakacki, who suggested providing holiday gifts to kids with cancer.
Here’s where the amazing part comes in. Killian approached Hermitage school administrators asking if she could send home information to parents about the effort.
“I didn’t really expect them to be involved,” she said of school officials. “I wanted to send a flyer home. They just absolutely ran with it.”
Administrators ran to the teachers, who came up with projects for their students.
All grade levels helped the effort by making cards and videos and raising money. The high school Students for Charity collected the donations and matched up to $500, and the high school chamber choir accompanied the Killian family and supporters to the hospital Monday, singing in the lobby as the gifts were unloaded.
Laura Mount, adviser to Students for Charity, said she had met Lauren at the Relay for Life two or three years ago and “loved her spirit.”
“When the idea came to us, it was an instant brainstorming session on what can we do, to which there were inspiring avenues to take,” Mount said.
Hickory is blessed with a steady supply of young people who “live for helping others,” she said.
“It’s their nature because they were raised right and their hearts are in the right place,” Mount said. “Give most of these kids a way of helping others and a place and they’ll be there. Some can give money and others can give of their time.”
The larger community also adopted the effort, some people on their own initiative. A Facebook post elicited an offer from Elite EMS Inc. to stuff an ambulance full of gifts for delivery to Children’s Hospital.
The effort raised so many gifts that the Mercer County Critical Incident Response Team sent its armored vehicle to help deliver the load, adding to the impressiveness of the convoy that included the ambulance, a school bus and personal vehicles.
All told, $8,500 was raised in cash and gift donations, enough to provide gifts for 24 specific patients and their families, and a gift for each of the hospital’s 300 beds.
Killian said she wanted to raise awareness of the struggles of kids with cancer and their families, and the tears on the faces of the chamber singers showed that she had succeeded.
“It’s one thing to have an idea,” Killian said. “If no one gets behind an idea, if doesn’t go anywhere.”
Lauren, while still being treated, is doing “amazingly” well, her mother said.
“She’s absolutely thriving,” Killian said. “Her doctor is surprised at how well she is doing.”
Lauren, a good student who plays tennis, does not like to talk about her cancer and her treatments, but the effort to help the kids at Children’s changed her, her mother said.
“When we talk about other kids, she really opens up,” Killian said. “It was very cathartic, as a family, to work together.”
The foundation hopes to make the effort an annual endeavor.