Johnson City Press Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Sue Guinn Legg

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slegg@johnsoncitypress.com
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Weston's legacy: Boy's short life was long on inspiration

March 24th, 2014 9:48 pm by Sue Guinn Legg

Weston's legacy: Boy's short life was long on inspiration

Weston Keeton and his parents, Adam and Julie Keeton, pictured before his heart and double-lung transplant surgery on March 5. (Photo Contributed)

Despite his life threatening condition, Weston Keeton’s friends are remembering him as a courageous boy who lived life to its fullest, brought people together and touched the lives of thousands of people he never knew.

The 7-year-old Blountville child died Sunday afternoon at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia where he lived for two and a half years before receiving a long awaited heart and double lung transplant in December.

Contacted by phone on Monday, Weston’s mother Julie said while the family is heart broken they are also happy that Weston is no longer undergoing the many difficult procedures he endured and is finally “breathing easy” with God.

Celebrations of his life are planned for Wednesday evening in Philadelphia and tentatively scheduled for late next week at Higher Ground Baptist Church in Kingsport.

Though Weston’s life was brief, its impact was far reaching. His mother said about 5,000 people followed his story through social media pages and his blog on the Children’s Organ Transplant Association web site. And a single link to an organ donation web page posted last year with the family’s request brought more than 3,500 visitors to that page.

“He was the ultimate comeback kid,” said Jennifer Schoondyke with the Johnson City based Kari’s Heart Foundation that helped Weston’s mother and two of his six siblings spend nearly three years with him in Philadelphia. “He came back so many times when it didn’t look like he could and he lived much longer than anyone thought he could have without having the transplants.”

During his time at the CHOP, Schoondyke said Weston developed a network of friends in the Philadelphia community. “Weston brought people together. He touched many lives of people at the hospital, people who prayed for him, people everywhere who heard about his story and followed him.

“He had a great attitude. He had friends at the hospital, children who died. Julie hated to tell him that but Weston would tell her, ‘Well I’ll see them again.’ ”

Ginger Little a Sullivan County school teacher whose son was friends with Weston and his older brother Easton fondly recalled Weston’s vitality for everything fun in the years before he moved to Philadelphia.

She will forever remember Weston at a picnic at the Eastman cabins, storming through the creek with the other boys and bravely swiping potato chips when the very large man charged with guarding the picnic table was not looking. “People asked ‘is that the little boy is so sick,’ because watching him you wouldn’t know it.”

“Weston lived life to the fullest and always had such a great sense of joy,” Little said. “He was a typical mischievous little boy and a typical sweet kid to have faced the battle he faced.”

Online, Little said, Weston gave courage to people he never knew. A woman who lives in another state and never met Weston followed his story online and told Little that her fears of an upcoming medical procedure were eased by the thought, “If Weston can do it, I can do it.”

The Keetons have expressd great appreciation for the young organ donor whose family gave their child’s heart and lungs so that Weston would have another chance at life. And upon his death, Weston’s parents said they were happy to donate his corneas so that two people without sight will be able to see. Their wish remains for everyone to register as organ donor and to make their family aware of their intention.

“Every transplant story is inspiring and we would definitely see the number of them increase if everyone would sign up,” Joy McCray with the Tennessee Donor Services office in Johnson City said.

The process can be easily completed in seconds online at donatelifetn.org or by calling the office at 915-0808, she said. “It only takes two seconds to sign up. Then you want to have that conversation with your family because you could save a life.”

Contributions to help with Weston’s funeral and medical expenses can be made at his Children’s Organ Transplants Association web page, www.cotaforwestonk.com. Or, donations made payable to COTA and earmarked for Weston Keeton may be made by mail to COTA, 2501 West COTA Drive, Bloomington, Ind., 47403.

Cards and letters to the family may be mailed to 524 Lucy Road, Kingsport, TN, 37660.

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