A Legacy of Life: The Miracle on 34th Street Remembered

Originally published on Huffpost Impact on 12/8/15

2015-12-06-1449371218-1875698-325717_2615726525313_1133717942_o-thumbThe staples that mark the essence of the holiday season occur like clockwork on an annual basis-and are not dependent on any particular person. Despite any aversion to the holiday season, it will take place all around you just like every single year of your life. However there never is a guarantee on how it will feel from year-to-year. This Christmas season, the thought of taking part in any merriment may be intolerable if you’re in the middle of grief. Or perhaps because of a recent life event such as a new baby or relationship, Christmas has taken a new feeling. The holiday season never changes, for it is truly tried and true. Our receptiveness and experience are the triggers that impact how the holidays are acknowledged throughout the years. Loss, change, acceptance, additions- all are moving parts in how we experience life, which includes the holiday season and all things associated with it.

Exactly two years ago this week, a pair of families underwent a life-changing event that forever alter their perception of the holiday season. On the same day in 2013, both families faced unexpected uncertainty, and desperately hoped for miracles that would put their lives back together. Two sets of parents kissed their babies outside of an operating room. Two children took their last breaths with the heart and lungs that brought them into the world. Two sets of surgical teams performed procedures that changed Christmas for everyone involved. Continue reading

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.

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.

Continue reading

Give the Ultimate Donation This #GivingTuesday

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Let’s be honest. You’re inbox has been blowing up with messages from your favorite charities about #GivingTuesday. Each hoping that you’ll make a financial donation to kick off the giving season. Here’s a secret. You can give an amazing donation this holiday season- and it wont’ cost you a dime.

Registering to become an organ donor online will give the gift of life one day to patients waiting on the national transplant waiting list. Currently, there are over 120,000 men, women and children who are waiting for a second chance of life. Kids like my dear buddy Weston, who received a heart and double lung transplant last December from his selfless donor. Because of donation, Weston was given additional time with his family before passing away earlier this year. For most of his life, Weston was listed on the transplant waiting list, and was a huge advocate for organ donation. In his honor, his mom Julie is encouraging people to register as organ donors on #GivingTuesday. It’s the ultimate gift of charity, it’s giving the gift of life to a family that is running out of time.

To learn more about Weston’s story, click here.

To learn more about organ donation, click here.

To register as an organ donor, click here. 

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