On August 28, 2008, Three-year old Kate Thornton was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). Her mother was 5 months pregnant with Baby #5 at the time. For the better part of Baby Bella’s first year of life, she “lived” in the hospital with Mom and Kate when Kate was hospitalized so that Mom could care for and nurse her newborn. The Thornton family of 7 had spent the greater part of that year living apart. Their 3 bedroom, 1200-square foot house was not safe enough for Kate. When out of the hospital, Kate and her mother stayed at her grandmother’s house since Kate could not be exposed to the tight quarters of living with 4 preschool/school- age siblings.
While most people could tolerate everyday germs, Kate’s immune system was so weak that her exposure to germs had to be carefully guarded or she would get sick, often leading to hospitalization. In addition, the doorways in her home were not wide enough for Kate to use her adaptive equipment to move about the house. When she was home, Kate slept on the couch in order to avoid “tight germ quarters” with siblings in small bedrooms. Shortly after Kate’s diagnosis, friends and family began to realize that the Thornton’s home was not safe or adequate for Kate’s needs. In the winter of 2009, a friend nominated the Thornton Family for Extreme Home Makeover. They were one of the four finalist families, but another deserving family was chosen. A group of friends were inspired by the show and determined to create a "grassroots effort" and complete our own makeover. The hope was to provide a safe, appropriately-sized, specially-ventilated home which would allow Kate to have full access of the home and safely be a part of the family.
After months of deliberation and meetings with volunteers and professionals, city planners, etc; it was determined that doing a makeover of the Thornton home was not practical or feasible. In May 2010, after much prayer, a renewed effort began with Kat Manzella, Kate's Godmother. Kate would be at Duke University for 100 days undergoing a necessary bone marrow transplant, donated by her 11-year old brother. With every moment of spare time, Kat, a teacher, andher friend, Katye Oliver, a stay-at-home mom, worked on acquisitions, funds and collaborating with volunteers to either build or buy a new home for the family. The entire summer, Kat and Katye researched , how to "gift" a house, secure a builder and consider special standards for Kate’s safety, etc. withe the help of another friend the Kisses 4 Kate website was launced. We began coordinating the efforts of folks offering to organize fundraisers, etc. It was nearly time for Kate to come home.
Kate was on a fairly steady, progressive path of recovery from the bone marrow transplant, minus a few “bumps”. Just days from her official discharge from Duke University’s standard 100-day bone marrow transplant recovery protocol, Kate started developing a fever and having increased pain. A bone marrow aspiration and biopsy were ordered to check her status. Sadly, on August 23, 2010 the family received the devastating news that Kate relapsed. Her cancer was back and there were no further treatments available. How do you stop? The kisses4kate.org project t was already in motion... one with so much heart and love?? We, as moms ourselves, could not.
In a matter of days, our search for “lease to own options” or renovate an older home etc. were dashed. We had to shift the focus of our project. There was no time to build or adapt a suitable house to her needs. We needed to find a walk-in ready, new home right away! The entire focus of the project changed overnight.Our hope was to bring Kate to a safe home where she and her family could celebrate the time she had left, together under one roof. We were broken hearted that “Kisses4Kate” would not have time to meet Kate's needs. However, we believed God was still in the “miracle business”. We did not know if He would heal Kate, but in the meantime we could not abandon this family. We set out to buy a house and were determined to move the family in regardless of the time Kate had left.