Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Believe in T

My sister's teacher forwarded a touching story about a little boy named Teddy Stoddard to my parents and many others, and it quickly made its way to me. The short version of the story is that the grubby, withdrawn, sometimes unpleasant Teddy earns a place in his stern teacher's heart when she discovers that he had been forced to endure the death of his mother two years before. The teacher was immediately ashamed of the way she had treated Teddy. Soon afterward, Teddy gave the teacher two Christmas gifts: a near-empty bottle of perfume and a rhinestone bracelet with some of the stones missing, both wrapped in a brown paper grocery bag. Some of the other children laughed and poked fun at Teddy's gifts, but the teacher treasured them. From that day on, the two developed a friendship that withstood the test of time. And many years later, after Teddy became a doctor, he thanked his old teacher for changing his life.

A quick Google search revealed that little Teddy Stoddard's story was a work of fiction first published as such in a magazine in 1976. I can imagine that same discovery has marked the end of the story's significance for many people. Not me.

Though she is not grubby or unpleasant, I still see some of my sister in Teddy. Taylor is beautiful and smart, brave and kindhearted. But Taylor is fighting her own battle, and because of that, she is occasionally misunderstood. She has Batten disease. Because blindness is part of her disease, her eyes don't act the same way sighted people's eyes act. And if she's in a group of people, she'll often get very quiet. Some people may think that means she's not paying attention. But she is; she's listening. She's always listening.

Some may think it would be easy to give up on Taylor. There are plenty of other children out there who can see. There are plenty of other children who aren't up against something as cruel as Batten disease. But like the fictional Teddy Stoddard, Taylor is filled with dreams. Because of an unfortunate roll of the genetic dice, her dreams may be harder to reach. But that's never stopped Taylor from reaching up toward the sky; running 5Ks, going to school dances, learning Braille, memorizing the words to all of her favorite songs, getting straight As and teaching me more about love and dreams than I ever imagined possible.

Teddy's story may be fictional, but Taylor's is very real. And regardless of how you feel about Teddy's story, remember the essence of its closing lines:

Just try to make a difference in someone's life today.

Believe in angels - then return the favor.

Don't ever stop believing in people who still believe in their dreams.

Don't ever stop believing in T.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Letter to an Angel

Dear Daniel ,

I hope you can find a few minutes between adventures to read my letter! There must be lots of mountains to ski down in heaven. Are they as beautiful as Mammoth Mountain? As you're racing down the slopes, feel the wind in your hair and the sun on your face, but also the presence of your family and friends. They love you so much, and they will always be by your side.

My little sister, Taylor, has Batten disease, too; in fact, that's how I got to know your family. You and Taylor have so much in common! You are both very brave, and whenever the grownups get really sad, you remind them how to smile. And just like you wouldn't let Batten disease stop you from going to the ocean and skiing, Taylor hasn't let Batten disease stop her from going to school with her friends or singing and dancing.

I am afraid of Batten disease, but Taylor helps me stay strong, just like you help your mommy and daddy and Lauren and David stay strong. It's easy to want to fight for fighters like you and Taylor. You are my heroes. I write lots of stories about Taylor, and I even wrote a story about you when you turned 10 years old in January. Everyone who read your story told me you inspired them, and I just said, "Me too!"

I am so sorry we weren't able to find a cure for Batten disease in time to save you, Daniel. Everyone already misses you here, but you are with God now, and I know He will keep you safe. Your life inspired so many people, and I know it will help give me the strength I need to keep fighting for Taylor and all of the other children with Batten disease. Your mommy told me that after your surgery, she felt like she was seeing the brilliant sunlight of hope for the first time. Even though your body has left us now, Daniel, your spirit still burns brightly. I'm not surprised that someone who loves adventures as much as you do would bring so much hope to so many people. Your life was a miracle. And one day, because of the gifts you gave us, I will find mine.

Rest in peace, be filled with the grace of God's love and take those mountains in heaven by storm! We love you.



Daniel Kerner
1/13/2000 - 4/12/2010

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Early yesterday morning, I ran in the Tar Heel 10 Miler road race on the streets of Chapel Hill and the campus of my alma mater, North Carolina. The chilly, dew-kissed April morning danced on my skin; centuries-old buildings, hot pink and white azaleas and blooming dogwoods provided the landscape. I jogged through the historic Gimghoul district, down streets I'd never visited as an undergrad, up steep hills on heavily trafficked roads and down a wooded lane past the charactered Forest Theater. And, about an hour and a half after the starting horn sounded, I entered a sun-filled Kenan Stadium for one lap around the track before crossing the finish line - the 944th runner in the field to do so.

I didn't come close to winning this race and never will - not in my short-distance runner's body, and not as long as I'm dependent upon the joints I've all but ruined on the soccer field. Nevertheless, I experienced beautiful pockets of Chapel Hill for the first time. I got a great workout. I had fun. I had an excuse to spend the weekend with my best friend from college, who still lives near Chapel Hill. And I shaved three minutes off my per-mile pace time since my last race - a half marathon in December. 943 people beat me to the finish line, but I achieved every single one of my goals.

Batten disease is different. There is no margin for error, no success sweet enough to overcome the loss of children - something that happens everyday. I don't do what I do - write this blog, run board meetings, pray, you name it - to finish in the middle of the pack. I don't do it to feel good. It helps me believe, but it doesn't feel really good yet, because we don't have a cure. Sometimes, I get too caught up in the details - the mechanics - of what Taylor's Tale is trying to do. When that happens, I call my parents and ask them what they're up to. If I can, I'll go see my sister - kiss her on the top of her head, ask her for a hug, take a walk with her or snuggle on the couch to watch a movie. If I can't see Taylor in person, I'll ask my parents to hand her the phone. If she's watching TV, I'm not apt to garner very much of her attention. I'll get a 'hi Laura' right when she takes the phone. If I'm lucky, I'll also get a few other words before she hands the phone off to get back to her show. But it's enough. In my world, being able to call my sister and 'talk' to her - even if it's a one-sided conversation - is a blessing. I stopped taking more for granted a long time ago. No matter how I recenter myself, I always manage to do so, somehow.

Time wasn't the most important element of my race yesterday. Crossing the finish line was enough. When it comes to Batten disease, though, time is everything. Every month that goes by without a cure, more children die. I've never stopped believing that we can cure this awful disease. I know we'll cross the finish line someday. For the sake of all of the children who need our help NOW, though, my goal is to run FASTER. If I coast, they lose - and one day, I will lie awake in bed at night, wishing I could have one of those one-sided phone calls with my sister again.

Pray for Daniel

I wrote an article about Daniel Kerner that appeared in our winter e-newsletter. Daniel, who turned 10 years old in January and is battling late infantile Batten disease, and his family have a special place in my heart. Tonight, they need your prayers.

If you don't receive our e-newsletter, you can read Daniel's story on the Taylor's Tale Web site here.

To Daniel, Joanna, Marc, Lauren and David - stay strong.