By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, firstname.lastname@example.org
Colton Key should be starting kindergarten next year. Instead, the little boy with the big smile is being remembered with a toy drive that benefits kids at Riley Hospital for Children.
His parents, Katy and Jordan, sister Avery, extended family, friends and even strangers honor the little boy by supporting the nonprofit Katy set up in her son’s name, Colton’s Kindness.
Colton was not quite 10 months old when he died just after midnight on the first day of January 2016. He had survived two serious heart surgeries before an infection and subsequent brain injury took his life.
But this story is not about his death as much as it is about his joy for life, short as it was, and how that inspired his parents to help others in his memory.
In that first year after Colton passed, Katy and Jordan decided to bring holiday joy to others at Riley by collecting toys and putting together care packages for parents.
It was therapeutic for them and a blessing to others. Each year, the collection has grown bigger. This year, the family is partnering with Mended Little Hearts of Indianapolis for the fourth annual Riley Heart Floor Toy and Parent Gift Drive. Katy expects to collect more than 700 items, including toys for kids and gift cards for parents. Instead of a sleigh, they will pack a U-Haul full of items for the Dec. 20 trip to Indianapolis from southern Indiana.
“It’s a huge endeavor, but it’s a labor of love,” Katy said. “It makes me feel happy that we’re giving back in Colton’s memory. He really was just a happy, joyful kid. I miss him all the time.”
But the Christmas season is the hardest time.
“It’s a hard month, but Colton’s Kindness is really good for me. It brings a lot of healing.”
Katy said talking to other moms on a daily basis via Facebook and her website is like having a community at her fingertips.
“It’s just as great for me as it is for them. When your child is not here, you don’t have memories to make with them and so you do things in their memory to try to ease the pain.”
Riley cardiologist John Parent, who became close with the Key family while treating Colton, said Katy and Jordan selflessly find ways to ease the pain and stress of other parents with sick children.
“Katy and Jordan are truly two of the most thoughtful and genuine people I have met. They, as parents, went through the worst thing a person can endure with the loss of Colton,” Dr. Parent said. “After he passed away, they really thought of ways they could help families dealing with similar situations. Colton will live on through their love and efforts in the most unique and giving of ways.”
Along with the toy drive, Katy puts together packages for bereaved families that include a memorial necklace, and she is working with Riley’s Hope in Healing bereavement program on a Mother’s Day event for moms whose children have passed.
For now, she is piling up donated gifts in the basement of her Bedford home, preparing to deliver them next week, along with some baked treats for Riley staff.
“It’s always bittersweet to come back, but I think it’s neat to make a little tiny difference in his memory.”
Find out how to donate via the wish list on the Colton’s Kindness Facebook page or at www.coltonskindness.com.