By Kurt Knotts, father and Connecticut Children’s employee
On a Sunday morning in October 2009, my wife Kelly and I looked at our 11-week old daughter, Jamie, and knew we needed to drive to Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. What we didn’t know was how our lives would change forever that day. We didn’t hear Dr. Finck’s words after “liver tumor.” We couldn’t comprehend what Dr. Isakoff was saying was in store for us. We were fortunate that Kelly had taken off a year of teaching to be with Jamie and our 2 ½ year old son Braeden. I was fortunate to work for a compassionate employer, Fuss & O’Neill, who gave me all the time I needed. Not so many families have those luxuries. So we moved into Connecticut Children’s that day with no knowledge of how long we would stay, no knowledge of the world inside those walls.
Over the next three months, Jamie endured chemotherapy, sedation in the PICU, scans, shots, counts, surgeries, and trips to the old 2nd floor clinic. We even traveled to Boston Children’s to begin the liver transplant process. But in the end, even after some hopeful tumor shrinkage, the very rare and aggressive cancer refused the chemotherapy and took over her tiny body. On a cold January Saturday morning, she earned her wings and was called back to her creator.
Through it all, Kelly and I were continually amazed at the care, concern, and compassion of the staff at Connecticut Children’s. They became our family, and we became theirs. We felt a dual sense of loss when we went home that day: saying goodbye to Jamie and saying goodbye to our new family. It drove us to want to give back, to stay connected, and to keep Jamie’s spirit alive.
I had experience managing my company’s golf league and chairing the company golf tournament, and Kelly was an avid runner and enjoyed charity running and triathlon events. We decided to form a foundation and create and all-ages event in Old Wethersfield called Jamie’s Run. With support including Fuss & O’Neill, Phoenix Laboratories, US Environmental Rental, JB Sports, and the Town of Wethersfield, we attracted over 800 participants and raised over $36,000 for the new Clinical Care Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders in our first year. You can see Jamie’s name on the plaque outside the clinic, which makes her parents overwhelmingly proud. She will always have a place there. Over the next five years, working with Robin Vidito and the Foundation team, we have raised over $120,000 for cancer clinical trials and the family assistance fund, in the hopes that no more families have to endure what we endured.
After a long career in the private sector and a wetland construction project coming to an end, I took the opportunity of having last winter off to volunteer/intern at the Foundation with the events team. I was welcomed early every morning by long-time (now retired) employee, Lucy Sorice, and the whole Foundation welcomed me in the way only Connecticut Children’s can. January through April was a surprisingly busy time, gearing up for the summer’s events and dealing with the unbelievable amount of toy donations in the toy storage building. I helped assist a family that was starting a new trail run in April, Reid’s Run, and immediately made a connection with the mother whose son had also passed away and amazingly shared the same birth date as Jamie. Those experiences furthered my resolve that this was the right decision for me and this is where I belong.
I came to the Foundation to prove to myself and the team that I could translate my diverse skill set to the non-profit world and be a valuable asset to the events team. During those winter months, several team members moved on to different careers, leaving job openings available for motivated, passionate individuals. Now bear in mind that the average Development Coordinator is a 24-year-old female, and I am now a 42-year-old father of two. I wasn’t sure I could rise above the competition. On top of that, my wetland project was starting up again in late April and I had to leave the Foundation not knowing my fate.
But my passion for Connecticut Children’s and the patients and families that support us shined through, and I received the call from HR that I was hoping for. I wrote my first (and hopefully last) resignation letter and began my career as a permanent member of the Connecticut Children’s family. It was very cool: my first day here was like my first day back, I already knew most everyone here, and I picked up where I left off. I have never felt more at home.
And I owe it all to Jamie. Her strong little heart that just didn’t want to stop, her twinkling eyes that followed her big brother around the room, and her spirit that lives on in so many people through Jamie’s Run, will forever mold who I am. I am a different person than I was five years ago. You never know where life will take you. You never really know the plan. Just don’t ignore the signs that are put in front of you. Step out of your comfort zone and take some chances. You just might find what you’re looking for.
For more information on how you can support Jamie’s Run, visit http://www.jamiesrun.org.