In the Fall 2008, Kat Manzella became a Spanish tutor for my daughters. In the winter of 2009, Kat shared that her goddaughter was being treated for leukemia at Brenner Children’s Hospital. Previous to learning about Kate, my daughters and I had dropped off decorated pillowcases and other items of encouragement for the children at Brenner, but we had never had a name or face to connect with. We started following Kate’s story through her caringbridge site. The hardship Kate and her family faced tugged at our heartstrings. I could not imagine how Kate’s mom, Susan, was handling nursing a newborn and caring for a child with cancer during long hospitalizations in addition to coordinating care for three other children who were at home. A friendship blossomed and we were able to visit, encourage, pray for and drop off needed items at the hospital during Kate’s long hospitalizations. Kate was such a bright, thoughtful, insightful child and it was a treat to spend time with her.
In the Winter 2009, the Thornton family was nominated for Extreme Home Makeover since they were living in a 1200-square foot, 3-bedroom home with 5 children. Kate required quite a bit of hospital equipment when home from treatments and there simply was no place for her to recover except at her grandmother’s house 20 minutes from her home. Our hope was that we could renovate her home which would allow Kate the special requirements she needed (wider, handicapped-accessible hallways and bathrooms, space for much-needed equipment and a quiet and separate room for Kate to heal) in order to recover and get stronger all the while being surrounded by her family. Another well-deserving family was chosen for the Makeover, but Kat Manzella and I believed we could accomplish something similar with our own grassroots home makeover.
In the Spring 2010, Kate left for a bone marrow transplant at Duke, we had 100 days to find a suitable home before her return. Sadly, on Day 96 of her 100-day protocol, Kate spiked a fever and had increased pain… the cancer was back. I was there when the family received the heartbreaking news, the first thing Kate said was, “I want to go home and be with my family. I miss my family”. After many months of researching all the possibilities with the family’s current home, renovating another home, etc, we were slammed with the harsh reality in late August 2010 that, instead of coming home to get stronger, Kate was coming home to die. This blind-sided our plans and things changed quickly. After over a year of being unable to spend a night at home with her entire immediate family, our hope was that we could give Kate the chance to spend whatever time she had left with her family, under one roof. This was her “wish”. Kat Manzella, Shannon Flaherty (our volunteer website guru)and I launched the Kisses4Kate website on August 23, 2010 with high hopes. Friends, family and strangers worked at break-neck speed to accomplish the near-impossible.
On September 3, 2010, Kate and her family walked in the door of a new and fully-furnished home, complete with Kate’s beautifully-painted and decorated Princess bedroom. The entire family was finally home.
When I look back, I can hardly believe I was a part of the unbelievable story of how Kate’s wish came true. Never in my life, have I seen the amazing hand of God at work like I did from August 23, 2010 - September 5, 2010. There were answers to “impossible” prayers multiple times a day… from last minute childcare for my children, last minute donated furniture and transportation, a highly-qualified lawyer, media connections, people willing to volunteer and/or donate, shoppers for home décor, a person willing to back the loan and a bank willing to work with us, etc. The list could go on and on. What I do know is that God confirmed to Kat and myself, over and over, that we were doing JUST what HE wanted us to do. We had to take a complete leap of faith for,“It is in the ridiculous that God can do the miraculous” (Mother Angelica). Kat and I regularly encouraged each other “With God, ALL things are possible!”(Luke 1:37)… even the CRAZY things! Seriously, to raise enough money ($100,000) to purchase a house in 10 days???!!! Did I mention that Kat is a Spanish teacher and I am a stay-at-home mom, neither of us having had any experience fundraising??!! It was a wild ride, but I am so thankful that the media willingly promoted our story and that the Piedmont Triad Community believed in what we were doing and supported us wholeheartedly.
Today, I know Kate is smiling, assured that we are continuing to help her Brenner friends as they face a similar journey. In partnership with the community, Kisses4Kate continues to provide much-needed support for these precious families, alleviating some financial strain and providing supportive services (Beads of Courage, Gowns4Girls, Pillows4Parents, etc.) so the families can focus on their child’s treatment plan and recovery. Until there is a cure …
Kisses4Kate, Co-founder & Family Navigator