Vibrant, friendly and happy is what I heard on the other end of the phone line, “Hello! You have reached (###-####). We are unable to get to the phone right now. Please leave your name and number. We will be glad to give you a call back. Thank you! Goodbye!”
That was my first introduction to Katie Fitzgerald, a cheerful voice, that continues to welcome callers to the Fitzgerald’s home. Sadly, I will never meet Katie. She lost an eight-year battle with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) in 2008. But somehow, I know her. Most likely that is through the many “life seeds” that Katie has left behind. Her thoughtful, brave and determined spirit are like seeds intentionally planted in a garden. They continue to grow, producing a variety of fruit and memories for her family, friends and others like me, who never knew her.
Tonight, I know that I will see fruit from all of these seeds. I am taking pictures at the Spike Leukemia benefit at Reagan High School in Winston-Salem, NC. This is one of several fundraiser events created to support “For Katie’s Sake”, a non-profit fund set up under the Winston-Salem Foundation. The Fitzgerald Family founded it with the mission to lend support to families with a child undergoing cancer treatment.THOUGHTFULNESS is definitely the sentiment behind “For Katie’s Sake”. Karen Fitzgerald, Katie’s mom, shares how “Katie was always thinking of others while entertaining the younger kids at the clinic and hospital.” Diagnosed (with ALL) at the age of 9, experiencing two relapses and undergoing a bone marrow transplant, forced Katie to spend a great deal of time at the hospital. I can only image how her thoughtfulness must have touched so many. Because of “For Katie’s Sake”, the thoughtfulness continues. In fact, when it came time to decide in exactly which direction to provide funding, it was Sarah Fitzgerald, Katie’s younger sister, who was the most vocal about giving support to the families.
Sarah knows all to well how crucial it is to have a strong support system. She was 7 years old when her sister was diagnosed with leukemia. Her grandparents (Rod and Shirley Clampitt) and aunt (Suzy Davis) moved to be closer for the Fitzgerald family. Sarah’s high school volleyball coach, George Folger, was also instrumental in supporting Sarah by encouraging the “SPIKE LEUKEMIA” event. As it turns out, this has become one of the main fundraising events for “For Katie’s Sake”. This is the first year that Sarah will not be able to attend. She is playing volleyball for UNC-Wilmington and has a match this weekend. But, the enthusiasm of her peers and those new to this event continues to grow along with Katie’s memory.
This year’s match will be against North Forsyth. Most of the money raised from this event is generated from the sale of Spike Leukemia T-Shirts donated by Hanes Brand. Reagan sold out of 700 T-shirts this year! The event also includes a silent auction, raffle and fun contests like money scramble and volleyball serve.
The “For Katie’s Sake” fund is just getting started with it’s impact in supporting families facing childhood cancers. The Fitzgerald Family hopes to soon add a golftournament, and eventually roll their fund into an endowment.If you are interested in supporting” For Katie’s Sake” with a monetary donation please visit the Winston-Salem Foundation at www.wsfoundation.org, click on make a gift and put“For Katie’s Sake Fund” in the box.Other needs include; art supplies for the Art’s for Life” program and meals for family members with children at Brenner’s Hospital. Karen realizes how special a meal can be for families stuck in an unfamiliar place, and has prioritized this aspect of the fund.
As to Katie’s BRAVE and DETERMINED spirit, her favorite Bible verse sums it up best. Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I believe this verse helped Katie through some difficult days. Today, this same strength can be seen in her grandparents, as they continue to faithfully attend RHS volleyball games. I saw it last year in her sister, Sarah, as she was crowned Reagan High School Homecoming Queen. Most definitely, I see it in her parents as they strive to support other families going through some of the same circumstances. Happily, it continues to be heard as a message on the Fitzgerald’s answering machine. “Please leave your name and number. We’ll be glad to give you a call back. Thanks! Good-bye!”
Katie’s cheerful “Good-bye” is the reason for this story. Who knew a good-bye could be wrapped with such thoughtfulness, bravery and determination? It is the strong enthusiasm of this simple sign-off that continues to ring in my mind. I suspect it is what motivates the Fitzgerald’s to continue with their mission to help other families facing childhood cancer. “For Katie’s Sake it must!
There is so much more to this story than I can possibly cover here. If interested you can read more about Katie Fitzgerald through his link created by the Fitzgerald Family. Katie Fitzgerald’s Story