Colton Key was a good-natured baby who loved to cuddle with his mom and dad while they read to him. He had a playful grin that lit up his face and a joyous laugh that brightened any room.
But he faced severe challenges in his young life. Diagnosed with a heart defect in utero, he was born at IU Health Methodist Hospital on March 6, 2015. His mom, Katy, remembers that she only got to kiss his little forehead before a medical team rushed him to the NICU at Riley Hospital for Children.
Three days later, he would have his first heart surgery to repair a double outlet right ventricle with a hypoplastic (very small) left ventricle. Colton came through that surgery pretty well and eventually went home with his parents to southern Indiana, where he was “the happiest baby,” his mom said. “He was an easy baby, really mellow.”
At 9 months, he returned to Riley for his second surgery. It was Dec. 2, plenty of time for Colton to recover and go home for Christmas. Or so his parents thought.
But an infection and subsequent brain injury left Colton seriously ill. He passed away just after midnight on Jan. 1, 2016.
That desperately sad holiday season spent in the hospital left Katy and Jordan Key wanting to do something positive in memory of their first child.
That’s how Colton’s Kindness was born.
“We were always huge Christmas people,” Katy said. “When Colton passed away and we had spent that Christmas in the hospital, we decided we wanted to memorialize him and bring a little joy to other people going through the same thing.”
They collected toys for Riley heart patients and put together care packages for parents.
“We didn’t think it would be very much stuff, maybe cover Christmas for a few kids and their families,” Katy said. But they ended up collecting and donating more than 400 items that first year. The next year, it was even bigger. This year’s collection is going well too, if the Keys’ spare bedroom and basement are any indication.
The toy and care package drop-off this year is set for Dec. 14 on the cardiovascular ICU and the step-down unit.
The family, which now includes 1-year-old Avery, is organizing donations at their home and updating their wish list on their Facebook page (search for Colton’s Kindness).
Items included in packages for parents include fluffy blankets, restaurant gift cards and adult coloring books. The latter came in handy for Katy when she spent day and night at the hospital.
“I remember sitting there coloring, trying to keep my anxiety in check,” she said. “It’s cool to bring a little joy to a situation we understand. It’s all very healing to me.”
Colton’s death left a forever hole in the Key family, Katy said, but Colton’s Kindness helps them remember his joyous life while he was here on Earth.
Learn more at coltonskindness.com, where you can find the Amazon wish list for the toy drive.
-- Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist