Feeding the Fire, Fueling a Legacy

WestonEditedBV-1Yesterday when I went for a walk after work, I never expected to get upset when passing a bakery.

Taking advantage of the short-lived sunny weather, I took the long way to my doctor’s appointment taking in the sights of Rittenhouse Square. I’ve worked in the Rittenhouse Square area for the past 2 ½ years, but my memories of the area go back farther. It’s the neighborhood where I spent many of brunches and dinners with the Keeton family. I can’t pass the park without remembering the evening where Julie and I ran from rats while Easton laughed at us. Or when I took six of the kids plus my own niece trick-or-treating alone, which somehow involved a cab ride.

The bakery was one of the rare times I was able to see Weston out of the hospital or Gift of Life Family House. I had just moved down to my first apartment in Fishtown in early 2013, and went over to meet Julie, Easton and Weston for breakfast. On the way back, Weston asked to ride on my back as we went to the Metropolitan Bakery to get cherry chocolate bread. He was so light on my back I could barely feel he was there, but his laughter and navigation could be heard a mile away.

So during my walk yesterday I found myself outside of the bakery, realizing it’s been four years since that day. And ever since the calendar flipped to March, the 23rd sticks out like an eyesore reminding me Weston gained his wings 3 years ago. Tears started to well up in my eyes as I quickly fumbled through my purse for sunglasses. The ache of time passed just hit me in that moment, and the disbelief that it has been 3 years since March 23rd became the day I want to punch in the face the most out of any other day of the year. And with the countless of lives Weston has touched, I know there are others who will be dealing with heartache this month.

Despite feeling the moments of grief and sadness attached to this month, I am also choosing to celebrate Weston’s legacy honoring his biggest heroes- firefighters.While there are many others who would also like to punch March 23rd in the face, they will be delivering baked goods, meals, supplies and love to firehouse & service workers across the country. All as part of the 3rd annual ‘Feed the Fire’ day of service in honor Weston Keeton’s 3rd year angel-versary.

10575303_10205185592312279_5157878559498156333_oFeed the Fire is a call to action for people from across the country to adopt their local fire house or a group that provides service. Weston adored firefighters & dreamed of being one when he grew up. During his lifetime, firefighters from across the country took time to send him letters, photos, gifts & even to make special visits. Julie & Adam Keeton made the decision to honor Weston’s heroes, and asked that all of those who had been touched by their son’s story to do the same.

Since 2015, hundreds firehouses were adopted nationwide with local heroes being treated to potluck dinners, donated supplies, and care packages full of treats (including Weston’s favorite, Hot Cheetos). Even more firehouses & heroes will be honored tomorrow, which is an incredible achievement for the 3rd year of Feed the Fire. While March 23rd will still be a difficult day for so many that miss that sweet little boy, there is comfort knowing that his legacy continues to bring the best out in people. Without a doubt Weston changed the course of my life for the better. I often say the little boy with the broken heart taught me how to love again.  Forever, I will be grateful for the Miracle on 34th Street.

Interested in getting involved in the 2017 Feed the Fire celebration? Visit the Feed the Fire Facebook page or http://www.westonswarriors.com/feed-the-fire.html 

 

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World Suicide Prevention Day- Awareness Through Writing

imagesThere’s no secret that I’ve been a huge advocate for mental health awareness over the past several years. My motivation for writing has always been making others feel less alone. This has been the reason I’ve written candidly about my struggles with depression and anxiety, in addition weekly therapy sessions. Also, I’ve shared more recently how my mother’s own mental health struggles impacted my childhood and our relationship. Because of the internet, someone can look for an essay or another voice that can possibly understand their feelings. Through the bravery of other writers, I’ve been rejuvenated and reminded during dark moments that with continued perseverance things will get better.

When I set foot into the counseling center at St. John’s University during the spring semester of my sophomore year, I thought it was a one time deal. A close friend had been suicidal and was checked into a hospital for a nervous breakdown. We were both so alike, and the fears of my own future taking a similar path trumped the preconceived notions I had about therapy.

Over the past seven years since that initial session, I can thank several mixtures of antidepressants, a 2 fantastic therapists and a whole lot of healing for helping me thrive. The free weekly therapy sessions offered throughout my college education saved my life, and is 100% the most important resource that helped me get through my undergraduate degree. Words cannot express the gratitude of the free services, that I would have not been able to pay on a student budget. During my darkest episodes of depression and anxiety, the idea of taking my own life wasn’t farfetched. I am so thankful for the voice inside my heart that kept encouraging me to go to therapy sessions, continue to heal and to find a medication that worked best for me. So many are not that fortunate.

images (1)I’m lucky to have a 3 close friends who have been able support me during episodes of anxiety and depression. They are the ones that have asked if I was okay, or made sure that I was continuously taking my medication. Having those few people in my life that will speak up when they sense something off is priceless.

Below are in the pieces I’ve written about mental health issues over the past several years. In honor of World Suicide Prevention Day, I hope that you read/share/repost this so that someone (or you) can perhaps feel less alone. In raising my voice, I hope it encourages others to raise their own to advocate for their own mental health wellness.

How I’m Surviving In Survival Mode During A Severe Depression Relapse 

The Christmas Cat That Worked Better Than Xanax

The Heartache of Bullying Doesn’t Have an Age Limit

Is Therapy Really Worth It? 7 Questions People Who See a Shrink Are Tired of Hearing

My Family Hid My Mother’s Mental Health Struggles During My Childhood, And I’m Still Dealing With It

Generations Of Dysfunctional Body Image Ends With Me

Throwing Warm and Fuzzy out the Window

Sanity or Self-Esteem?

Moving on From Being Dark and Twisty

Pay It Forward For Weston’s 9th Birthday

11894578_10155916357870063_7526162772039543462_oIn the end, it’s not the years in your life that count, It’s the life in your years.

9th birthdays are supposed to be celebrated with cake, ice cream and memory making. And although Weston will be celebrating his heaven on September 3, all of those things will still be enjoyed through the people that carry on his legacy with the same heart that is heavy with grief.

In honor to celebrate the life of their little prince, Julie Keeton and her family has asked for people to pay it forward in honor of Weston’s birthday. Buy someone a cup of coffee, bring in donuts to work in the morning, buy candy for the nurses at your local doctor’s office. Whatever it is, make the world a better place by showing kindness.

If you do pay it forward in honor of Weston tomorrow, be sure to tag @WestonsWarriors on Facebook and Twitter. You can click here to learn more about Weston and the impact he had on not just my life, but the lives of so many.  I miss Weston a whole lot, and the only way to honor his bubbly spirit is to celebrate his love for life. He will forever be my miracle on 34th street that reminded me what life was all about.

102 Fire Fighters Fed for Feed the Fire 2015

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The Fire Fighters at Manoa Fire House and Weston’s Warriors!

On March 23, 2014, Weston gained his wings. It’s baffling to me that 365 days have passed. I still see things in the store and think to pick it up before that split second of reality reminds me.

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Decoration by Me, baking by BJS!

The night at CHOP I remember wondering what happen to to the miracle we had all witnessed that December waiting in the same room at 3 am for the transplant. Little did I know the miracle was more. It was the resilience of a family to get through devastation and honor their sons life. It’s the tons people that united to feed the fire in Weston’s honor, its the friendships that continue because of Weston’s introduction, and it’s the impact his story continues to have on people registering as an organ donor. The real miracle in 34th street is the testimony to an ever lasting legacy of a forever 7 year old boy and the resilience of the human spirit.

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Weston named Honorary Head Fire Fighter at Manoa Fire Company.

On March 23, 2015, people who loved Weston across the country took part in the first ever Feed the Fire event. The brainchild of Weston’s parents Julie and Adam, was a way to use the day as a celebration of the heroes whom Weston admired the most- fire fighters! Over 102 fire houses were adopted last Monday, through the kindness of others brining snacks, supplies and love all in the name of a little boy who had a knack of brining people together.

I was lucky enough to participate in the day with my friend Jen, her adorable 8 year-old son Dom, and our friend Karen. We adopted Manoa Fire Company in Havertown, PA and brought them cookies, brownies, water and most importantly, Flaming Hot Cheetos. The kind firefighters honored Weston that evening by presenting the Keeton family with a special plaque making Weston an honorary member of Local 56. He was also named the Head Fire Chief for one of the fire trucks that evening.

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Even the Highly Intelligent Cat got into it!

It was a day that served as a reminder that our loved ones really never leave us, they just learn to show their love in a different way. I cannot wait to see what great events Weston’s Warriors will plan in the future!

Watch the NBC10 news clip from Feed the Fire!

Read the Delco Times Interview about Feed the Fire!

Read the WOGL Interview about Feed the Fire!

Listen to the WOGL piece about Feed the Fire!

Read all of the Feed the Fire Press here! 

Click here to view photos from the day! 

Click here to watch the recap video of the day.

A 3 Year Career of Story Telling

I spent this afternoon looking at photos of people that I’ve covered over the years through video, photography and writing.  Having started my career at Gift of Life Donor Program, I had the fortune of honing my craft of interviewing individuals who have experienced life altering experiences. At Philabundance, I was able to explore the world of poverty and work each day to get the word out that there is no one face of hunger. At Good Shepherd Penn Parters, I am able to cover the inspirational stories of patients working to regain their mobility, their caregivers who support them, and the therapists that work tirelessly all for their patient. Since graduating college in 2011, I am lucky to have continuously help share incredible stories told by amazing people! Love non-profit life! When I wanted to be a writer growing up, I never knew my life would take this turn but it is so fulfilling and so inspiring! Take a look at some of the amazing people I’ve profiled over the years!

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The Privilege of Sharing Weston’s Story

1185909_10153899978620063_58327903_nIn honor of the 2 year transplant anniversary of my buddy Weston Keeton, here are the links of articles and videos that I have been fortunate enough to cover since 2012. When I first met Julie Keeton in 2012, little did I know that a life long friendship would take place. He loved playing with my cameras, touching the buttons on the microphone and watching himself back on the screen

Thank you for everyone that has followed Weston’s story over the years. Although he is now an angel, I will to cover his legacy that continues to impact the lives of so many.

A Legacy of Life: Miracle on 34th Street Remembered 

Paying it Forward for Weston’s 9th birthday

102 Firefighters are Fed for Feed the Fire

The Miracle on 34th Street- One Year Later 

How a Little Boy with a Broken Heart Taught Me How to Feel 

The Real Miracle on 34th Street 

18246_10151202133918598_1753656347_nThe Moving Story of the Real-Life Miracle on 34th Street 

Happy Holidays Story Time- Miracle on 34 Street 

Meet Chickie and Pete’s Newest Employee

Faces of Organ Donation- Weston Keeton

Philadelphia Mummers Raise Awareness for Transplant Family 

Faces of the Family House- The Keeton Family 

Dedicating a Day of Thanks 

Faces of the Family House- Weston Keeton 

Feed the Fire- Honoring Weston Keeton

Screen Shot 2015-03-21 at 12.11.45 PMI never thought a year ago I would be writing a press release and helping my friend Julie organize an event to honor the one year passing of her son, Weston. But on Monday, March 23, it will be exactly a year since I received a text message that my buddy Weston gained his wings. A year later, Weston is missed more than ever but the Keeton family continues to keep his spirit alive by paying it forward.

Many parents cannot even fathom what the Keeton family has gone through. Yet Julie and Adam Keeton are showing that it is okay to honor the ‘angel-versery’ of their son. Since Weston adored firefighters, the Keeton family planned a special event called ‘Feed the Fire’. They have asked supporters from across the country to adopt their local fire house, by donating meals, supplies and snacks. Over 62 fire houses will be ‘adopted’ on Monday, March 23.

Myself and my friend Jen will be adopting Manoa Fire Company in Havertown,PA.  You can click here to read the press release.

98.1 WOGL interviewed Julie and I for this awesome piece promoting the event. You can click here to read it. 

Julie was also interviewed on WJHL last week. You can click here to watch the clip.

To learn more about Weston and Feed the Fire, visit www.westonswarriors.com.

Stay tuned for a recap of the event!

The Miracle On 34th Street- 1 Year Later

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Originally Published on Huffington Post on 12/09/2014 

Oh what a difference 365 days can make. Apologies for the starting this story with such an overused cliché, but it’s the only phrase that captures the event that have happened since the publication of the original ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ story. This was not the follow up piece I had intended to be writing a year later, but realistically I hadnever thought I would befriend a little boy from Tennessee and his family.

This time last year, a gravely ill little boy named Weston Keeton occupied the corner room of the 6th floor in the CICU at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia. Despite being tethered to literal lifelines in a hospital room, an unparalleled energy radiated from his room which was perpetually occupied with the chatter of his seven siblings and visitors from all over the region as he battled pediatric pulmonary hypertension.

His parents, Julie and Adam, and world-renown medical staff were facing an uncertain future. The only thing certain was that a heart and double lung transplant was the sole way Weston would see another year. After three years of agonizing waiting, the phone call that was prayed for each night was received by Julie in the early morning of December 12, 2013. Thus began my experience in witnessing of the events that unfolded in the original Miracle on 34th Street article, just two weeks before Christmas.

During hours after transplant, my mind wandered about what 2014 would be like for Weston and his family. Everyone who WestonEditedBV-1rooted for this little boy during his long journey on the transplant waiting list was anticipating seeing the promise of new life. That was the miracle, wasn’t it? The opportunity to regain a normal life for a 7 year old boy and his family.

And in a blink of an eye, the expectations for the upcoming year were deflated. Instead of 2014 being the year of Weston’s recovery, it became the year of heartache. As the weeks passed in the new year, complications arose that no one was able to foresee during a time of promise.

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The Miracle on 34th Street Remembered

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Me and Weston on his 7th Birthday.

People cross paths for a reason in life. I’m not a believer in coincident, not after all of the perfectly orchestrated moments of fate that I have seen strung together over the past 25 years.

Weston Keeton crossed my path of life when I least expected it, but when I needed it most. This kid knew how to make the most of every day of his life, even if he spent most of it in Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. When visiting him while he awaited a heart and double lung transplant, one would forget you were in a hospital. Besides the beeping machines and tangled wires, a visit was spent with cartoons, video games, junk food and friends. He brought together people from different walks of life, and inspired others to preserve in his struggles. The beauty of it was he had no idea he was doing all of this, he was just living.  Continue reading

The Ultimate Miracle on 34th Street Will Live On

As seen on Huffington Post, published on 05/06/2014

*Disclaimer:For those of you who responded to kindly to my initial article “Miracle on 34th Street’ chronicling Weston Keeton’s transplant surgery in December 2013, thank you from the bottom of my heart. The article opened many people to the topic of organ donation.

IMG_4844How did a 31 year-old Tennessee woman, who is mother of seven children — one critically ill –become best friends with a single, 24 year-old from Philadelphia? Two years later, I’m still trying to sort that out myself. I honestly believe fate introduced me to Julie. We were two people going their own personal battles, and trying to find some normalcy in life.

While working as a multimedia liaison at an organ procurement center, in spring 2012, I filmed a lot of sad stories. People sat down in front of my camera and shared their struggles during their wait for an organ transplant. My heart broke for many of these families, but when it came time to film the saddest story of them all, I ended the interview laughing.

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