By Jeff Odom
The St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital Kids are Heroes program has recognized more than 1,400 children for their deeds in the Tampa Bay area since 1996.
From being there for a friend to saving a life, these students have made a big impact, and the program is putting the spotlight on their good deeds.
The hospital, with help from the Tampa Bay Lightning, will honor the winners and nominees at a later date with a special recognition ceremony.
Gracie Langton, New Tampa
Deanne Langton knows her life would be very different without her daughter Gracie.
In late August, Deanne and her 10-year-old daughter were getting ready for their usual bike ride from their neighborhood to Tampa Palms Elementary, where Gracie attends school.
As they were heading out, Gracie asked her mother a random question.
“Why don’t you wear your helmet, Mom?”
“I usually see other moms around the neighborhood riding with helmets on their head and some of them and some kids ride to school without their helmet,” Gracie said. “(When I asked her) it just was out of the blue, and it just came to me.”
Deanne said she didn’t think much of the question, and the two kept riding.
“Luckily on that ride nothing happened, and I was safe,” Deanne said.
Gracie’s question turned into a reality the next day.
Before the two left home on their bicycles, Deanne heard her daughter’s voice ringing in her ears asking about the helmet. She thought it would be a good idea to wear it — just to be safe.
To this day she’s not sure what prompted her to make that decision, but it is one that likely saved her life.
Halfway through their trip, a car was backing out of its driveway. Gracie swerved to avoid it, but Deanne was going too fast to stop.
“I was going about 14 mph,” Deanne said. “I saw Gracie up ahead and I saw the car coming out, and it pulled right out in front of us. I hit my brakes, and when I did I went head first over the handlebars of my bike and my head was the first thing to hit the ground.”
Deanne laid on the sidewalk, motionless and unable to speak. Gracie screamed for three passersby, who called 911.
Deanne’s brother quickly rushed over to pick them up.
“I thought I was fine, but then when I got into (the car), I realized I couldn’t move,” Deanne said. “We went to the Urgent Care (walk-in clinic) and I couldn’t get out of the car. I inched around enough to get out of the car, but I was kind of all crumpled up. I went inside and they said I needed to go to a trauma center.”
She was taken to the hospital where they found two cracked ribs and a punctured lung, which had collapsed and needed to be treated with a chest tube. Deanne was forced to remain there for seven days, but Gracie was right by her side telling stories to keep her in good spirits.
“I honestly believe that Gracie is my hero, because without her asking me that question, I probably wouldn’t have worn the helmet,” Deanne said. “I believe my life would be totally different if she never did.”
Deanne is now at full health. She has scars on her hands and back, but she said she will take them if it means keeping her life. She also keeps the scratched and cracked helmet as a reminder of just how precious life really is.
“Even if it’s two doors down, I’m still going to wear my bike helmet,” Gracie said. “You just never know what is going to happen. One second you’re on your bike, and two seconds later you could be falling on the ground and it’s scary to think about.”
Deanne wants to speak to Gracie’s classmates about her accident and the importance of wearing a helmet, hoping her story will inspire others to do the same. She said her helmet is now part of the family routine before they venture out.
“No one is invincible,” Deanne said. “If I wasn’t wearing it on September 1, my life would be very different today. I can tell you, my daughter and I will never bike without our helmets on. They save lives.”
Katherine Sportman, Lutz
Fifth-grader Katherine Sportman wants to make a difference for others.
When her teacher had to go on medical leave to receive treatment for ovarian cancer, the 10-year-old decided she could help by raising money with her mother, Nikki Sportman, who nominated her.
Then, when Super Storm Sandy ravished the East Coast, Katherine took her giving to a whole new level.
She didn’t just want to help the victims, but pets too by preparing homemade treats to sell at a local children’s market.
“Hurricane Sandy was coming, and she was really struck by the need and what was happening there,” Nikki said. “She took it upon herself and decided that she wanted to help out there and raise money for the urgent situation.”
Katherine combined her love for dogs and desire to assist others to came up with a batch of special treats for the pets.
“She wanted to do something that was healthy and she loved dogs, so she thought that homemade organic ingredient dog treats would be a good way to go,” Nikki said. “She picked three different varieties and researched the different recipes, and I helped her in the kitchen.”
The idea worked as Katherine and Nikki raised more than $150, which they donated to the American Red Cross.
“She’s always been a very giving person, and I was really happy that she has found an outlet to really feel like she’s doing something really big,” Nikki said. “We elected to donate to the American Red Cross through the Weather Channel, because they were matching donations, so in her mind she kind of doubled that money raised by doing that.”
There are other ideas Katherine is exploring for future projects, including raising more money for cancer victims. Nikki said she plans on returning to the market in Hyde Park sometime in the next few months to sell more goods and give any donations to the American Cancer Society.
Sean Kirkwood, Odessa
When Sean Kirkwood’s best friend Jake became ill with cancer, he didn’t fret.
“My son is a typical 11-year-old, but when Jake DePagter became ill with cancer, he was right there for him,” said Sean’s mother Ellie Kirkwood.
Sean took it upon himself to be there for his friend by sending cards, making videos to keep his spirits up and keeping his fellow classmates in the loop of what was going on at the hospital.
He also made numerous visits to see his friend, spending time talking about Xbox games, among other things.
“Even when Jake wasn’t in school, Sean would come back to class and tell them stories and make sure they knew how he was doing since he wasn’t there,” Ellie said. “My son’s definitely a normal boy, but I’m just so proud of what he did to dedicate himself to Jake and spend the time to be with him.”
When DePagter was able to come home, Sean wanted to be with him as much as possible. The two often played air hockey, swam or watched television.
Ellie said Sean was thrilled to find out he had been nominated for the award by his guidance counselor.
“He’s quite a humble person, and he said to me, ‘Mom, in all honesty, I don’t feel like I did anything special,’ because he’s not the one who’s going through cancer,” Ellie said. “I told him how proud of him I was, and I told him that he was nominated because he stood by Jake, which I think was very important to him, because he had a friend and had someone who was there for him and no one else would do this.”
Ashlynn Diaz, Wesley Chapel
Wesley Chapel resident Ashlynn Diaz is being recognized for her commitment to helping others around the community.
Diaz has served on her school’s student council and received first place in a state speech competition.
Outside of the classroom, Diaz has participated in Relay For Life and has also been involved in numerous autism awareness walks. She also currently has the title of Ms. Sunshine State from the Florida Miss America Coed Pageants.
–For more information about the Kids Are Heroes program, contact Amy Gall at (813) 870-4731.
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