Kids triathlons give lifelines to others in health battles

By Emma Johanningsmeier / World-Herald staff writer

After JoAnn Kaylor’s son, Kevon, was diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer in October 2013 at age 15, caring for him became Kaylor’s full-time occupation. For the first four months, she was with him every day while he stayed at three different hospitals.

Several months after the diagnosis, Kaylor had used up all her leave time under the Family Medical Leave Act and had to quit her job, leaving her with little income — only what she gets from child support and Kevon’s Supplemental Security Income. It’s not enough to pay the rent and cover all the bills, she said. “People don’t understand — when you lose your job, you lose everything,” Kaylor said. “My 401(k) is gone, and we have no health insurance, so we have to be on Medicaid. We have nothing extra.”

That’s where foundations and nonprofits come in. The latest to help out is the Minneapolis-based Pinky Swear Foundation. The organization has raised funds for 12 years through triathlons in the Twin Cities area, and this year it’s partnering with Hy-Vee to put on five Hy-Vee Pinky Swear Kids Triathlons in the Midwest. One is Saturday at Glenn Cunningham Lake in Omaha. How it works: healthy kids register for the event (there’s still time — people can register Friday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Cunningham Lake). They’re matched with a kid with cancer who’s been helped by Pinky Swear. The participants raise funds for Pinky Swear however they want before and after the triathlon.

Omaha fundraising will go through Sept. 30. Like previous triathlons Hy-Vee has put on, the Pinky Swear triathlons aim to promote health and wellness, but they differ in that the focus is on participation and fundraising rather than competition. “We’re getting a lot more first-time triathletes. We’ve reduced the distances, and it’s more about trying out something new, having fun and raising funds,” said Ryan Grant, Hy-Vee director of sports marketing and events. Last weekend’s Hy-Vee triathlon in the Twin Cities drew 750 kids and is expected to raise about $700,000, said Pinky Swear Executive Director Brian Nelson.

As a pediatric oncology social worker at Nebraska Medicine, Sue Kinney-Wieland has seen how indispensable foundations like Pinky Swear are. She acts as a go-between for families and foundations. The Kaylor family has benefited. Angels Among Us, an Omaha nonprofit, paid $500 a month towards the Kaylors’ rent for 10 months. Another organization helped out when Kaylor’s car broke down and cost $800 to fix. Without that, Kaylor said she would be without a vehicle to take Kevon to chemo sessions. The Be+ (Be Positive) Foundation helped out another time. After six weeks of radiation treatment and a year of chemotherapy, Kevon’s cancer — glioblastoma multiforme, a cancer with a 2 percent survival rate that usually affects adults — went into remission for five months. In April, it returned, and Kevon is now receiving chemo again. His mom takes care of him 24/7. “The biggest thing I want people to know,” she said, “is that these organizations — they’re our lifeline.”

Source: Omaha World Herald

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