TAMPA – Shannon Boehling prefers to give God thanks for what is healthy about her family – rather than dwell on what is not.
“I was taught that we count our blessings, not our losses,” said Boehling, who since early childhood has witnessed family member after family member battle with illness and pain.
But the Plant City resident and mother of two daughters said watching her own sick child struggle daily is by far the most difficult matter with which she has ever had to handle.
“No child should be sick, no child should suffer,” said Boehling, whose younger daughter Kayden, 8, was diagnosed at age 4 with juvenile psoriatic arthritis, an autoimmune disease that causes pain and swelling in her joints.
It’s a condition, her mother said, that Kayden most likely will not outgrow despite undergoing twice-monthly infusions at Shands Hospital at the University of Florida in Gainesville and weekly injections at home.
Some days are better than others, especially when it pains her to walk. Her father, Kyle, generally carries Kayden up the stairs at night to her second-floor bedroom. For extended family outings, she usually opts to use a wheelchair.
In spite of it all, Boehling said Kayden, a second-grader at Walden Lake Elementary School, possesses a character unlike most youngsters her age.
“She is who she is because of what she has gone through,” Boehling said. “She is caring, kind, sweet, thoughtful and loving.”
Her dad describes Kayden as a child who has “an exceptional heart.”
And her mother noted Kayden can sense someone else’s problems in a heartbeat and possesses a passion to help people in distress.
Kristine Bennett, principal of Brooks-DeBartolo Collegiate High School in Tampa, can fully attest to that.
In December, in lieu of gifts for her eighth birthday, Kayden asked her family members, friends, neighbors, and Facebook buddies – plus their network of friends and families – to donate shoes to the school’s shoe drive.
In turn, the donated shoes, in various sizes, styles and condition, will be repurposed and distributed to low-income entrepreneurs to sell in disadvantaged countries throughout the world as a means to provide for their families.
The school’s shoe drive coordinator Lydia “Ivette” Pernas, who also serves as executive administrative assistant for the Brooks-DeBartolo board of directors, said Kayden’s effort alone has yielded 500 pairs.
“Kayden is an amazing little girl. She just stole our hearts,” Pernas said.
Bennett, concurred, calling the child, “a true model of humanity.”
“To be so young and to think of the misfortune of others even when she faces challenges with her health shows the strength of the human spirit and generosity,” she said. “Kayden demonstrates the wisdom of what it means to give back selflessly.”
Kayden, who happens to be a shoe-lover, is thrilled knowing the shoes will go to people who desperately need them.
“Living with arthritis stinks, but giving all those shoes made me feel so happy,” she said. “I loved opening all the shoes and being able to know that I will put a smile on (the face of) another kid.”
The school’s shoe drive runs through May 24. Shoes bundled in bags of 25 pairs each can be dropped off in the school office, 10948 N. Central Ave., in Tampa.
Contact Pernas at (813) 971-5600, Ext. 204 or email [email protected] for more information.
Joyce McKenzie can be reached at [email protected]