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October 29, 2013

Charity helps kindergartner slide into fun

By Terry Oparka
C & G Staff Writer

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Kindergartner Izzy Stothers hangs out with her brother Phineas on the playscape in her backyard.

While McKenzie “Izzy” Stothers, 5, and her brother Phineas, 7, fight at times, they are also best friends.

Izzy attends kindergarten at Barnard Elementary School and loves sliding down slides and playing on the swings with her brother.

But due to a congenital condition, 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, which has left her with a weakened heart and lungs, and a compromised immune system, Izzy got too fatigued walking to their local park to enjoy the activity.

Izzy’s mom, Melonie, said they learned of Izzy’s condition before she was born.

Melonie said doctors have told them Izzy won’t live to be an adult. After looking into heart and lung transplants, Melonie and her husband, Dale, decided not to go forward with those options.

“When we were told there wasn’t anything we could do, we started living life,” Melonie said. “The stress has kind of lifted, in a way.”

Enter Walk With Me, based at St. John Providence Hospice, a pediatric hospice organization, which hooked the Stothers up with another family in Troy, the Kasts — parents Paula and Rick, and children Brett and Nancy —when Izzy asked for a slide for the family’s backyard so she could share fun with her brother.

The Kasts founded The Jenna Kast Believe in Miracles Foundation in 2005 as a nonprofit organization to honor their daughter and sibling Jenna Kast, who was fighting brain cancer. Jenna lost her battle with brain cancer in 2010.

Brett Kast and his friend, J.D. Sterba, hit on the idea of raising money to buy gifts for children who were suffering by selling wristbands inscribed with “Believe in Miracles.”

“Jenna loved being a part of the organization, and it has been a blessing for our family to carry forth her incredible spirit through this organization,” said Paula, executive director of The Jenna Kast Believe in Miracles Foundation.

Paula said the group began by helping two-three children each year.

“McKenzie’s playscape is the 20th wish we have granted so far,” Paula said.

After Jenna died, Athens High School, which Nancy Kast now attends, selected the Jenna Kast Believe in Miracles Foundation as the recipient of the $35,000 the school raised during its 2011 Charity Week initiative, Paula said.

The group has granted wishes for children across the state who are suffering — wishes that include meeting sports teams and taking trips to Disney World.

Melonie said the hospice group encouraged the family to create memories together and to try to make everything as meaningful as possible.

“She (Izzy) can go to the park, but she gets so exhausted by the time we get down there, she has to come inside and rest,” Melonie said. “This (playscape) is something they could do together. McKenzie’s sickness is very difficult for him (Phineas), as well.”

Through The Jenna Kast Believe in Miracles Foundation, the playscape was delivered to the Stothers’ backyard Oct. 22.

“The kids are very excited,” Melonie said. “We asked for a slide and got so much more.”

“They’re amazing together,” Melonie said of the bond between her children. “When you ask who their best friends are, they say each other. She and her brother have this huge connection. Izzy is having lots of fun.”

“The best part is seeing the joy on the face of the children, and feeling the joy from Jenna as she watches and smiles,” Paula said.

For information in The Jenna Kast Believe in Miracles Foundation, visit www.believeinmiracles. org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Terry Oparka at toparka@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1054.