Two special children...and a very special gift
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Submitted photo Eighteen-year-old Kyle Cortilet of Manchester, Mo. (at center), who is a recipient of a double-lung transplant, greets Cardinals' mascot, Fred Bird, during a September day at Busch Stadium. At right is Drew Pikey of New Madrid, the brother of the lung donor, Sydney Pikey, who died at the age of seven in 2003. A day of VIP treatment at the ballpark was made possible through the efforts of the local charity organization, 18 Fore Life.
Special to The Daily Statesman
By SCOTT KRUSE with NOREEN HYSLOP, Managing Editor
In many ways it was a typical September St. Louis Cardinals home game recently when the Padres were in town, and although the Cards had been struggling to compete in the National League Wild Card race, the city was electric. Busch Stadium had that special feeling that is only found in the early fall. But very few in the stadium knew just how special this night was for two families in attendance.
On Sept. 15, 2003, John and Stacy Pikey from New Madrid lost their seven-year-old daughter, Sydney, in a tragic accident. During the grieving process that followed, the family gained comfort in the knowledge that two other children were given a better quality and quantity of life through the couple's decision to donate Sydney's organs.
An organization named "Sydney's Santa" was soon created to keep Sydney's spirit alive and to honor her memory by providing toys for children who otherwise might not have a bright holiday. The group also raised awareness for the gift of life that organ donation delivers. Sometime after Sydney's death, Stacey Pikey received a call from Michelle Frankiewicz. Michelle explained to Stacy Pikey that her son, Kyle Cortilet, had been a recipient of Sydney's lungs. Her son had suffered from cystic fibrosis and the transplant had saved his life.
The women talked by phone periodically, but it was nearly two years before it was realized there was something else they had in common. They both lived in Missouri and were less than a three-hour drive apart. Kyle and his family lived in Manchester outside of St. Louis.
When Kyle turned 13, he asked for one special gift--he wanted the families to meet so that he could thank the Pikeys in person. That gift was granted in an emotional meeting four years ago. It would be the first of many gatherings of the two families. A relationship was formed and a bond of friendship was built on pain, triumph, hope, love, and a gift given by a beautiful little girl named Sydney.
The gratitude of Kyle's family for the Pikey's decision that saved their son's life sealed a friendship few have experienced. Over the years, the families met on a regular basis, serving as a comfort to one another. Often in the summer, they would organize trips to Busch Stadium to watch Cardinal baseball games. These trips provided fun for both families--a way to celebrate life together in a special place. For the Pikeys, it was a consistent reminder of the gift their daughter had given, first to a young man and his family, and secondly, to the Pikeys themselves in the form of this kindred friendship.
Kyle was 11 years old when he received the gift of life from Sydney. He grew from a young boy into a fun-loving teenager, enjoying all that life offers along the way. This year he entered school as a senior.
But during the summer months of 2010, Kyle's body began to reject the gift that had sustained him for the past seven years. He went into the hospital, was placed on oxygen, and eventually received the news he and his family feared. Doctors told the family there was nothing more they could do. Kyle's condition was terminal, and not even an angel named Sydney could save him any longer. Kyle, doctors told his family, was dying.
The families, it seemed, now needed each other more than ever.
As Kyle's condition quickly declined and his lung capacity approached a mere 15 percent, he refused further treatments, said "no" to oxygen, and would absolutely not use the help of a wheelchair or other aides. He did, however, make a request. He wished for one more trip to Busch Stadium to see his beloved Cardinals play ball.
In stepped the Dexter-based charity, 18 Fore Life. The organization usually supports families suffering from the mental and physical expenses that accompany a cancer diagnosis. Although Kyle's story presented a different set of needs, upon hearing it the group immediately went to work.
With a phone call to friends and supporters at The Bank of Advance, the charity and business sponsor found a way to reserve 14 seats in a corporate suite at Busch Stadium along with a full buffet with all the fixings. Martin Coco, Director of Alumni Relations, arranged for the group to go down on the field during batting practice and requested Fred Bird come up to the Suite to add to the atmosphere.
But who would Kyle choose to invite to join in the fun? Family--of course! Best friends from school? Absolutely! But the largest number of folks attending that Sept. 17 game were from a family that goes by a different name. Yes, John and Stacy Pikey, their son, Drew, and a few others from the Pikey family drove up, and just as they had done in the past, they visited and talked as the baseball Cardinals took care of business on the field.
Kyle didn't feel he could physically make it down to the field, so in typical fashion, he said, "I want my friends to go. I just want to stay up here and visit."
Kyle's friends rubbed shoulders with hitting coach and baseball legend Mark McGwire and others, posing for pictures and getting a load of autographs. David Eckstein, now a member of the visiting Padres but a former Card, was also a big part of the special night. Eckstein, who has a family history of kidney failures and is a big promoter of organ donations, spotted Drew Pikey. Eckstein had once made a commercial with Kyle and was familiar with the story. He knew Drew's late sister, Sydney, was responsible for Kyle's borrowed time. Eckstein had also worked with Sydney's Santa to raise money and awareness, so there was plenty to visit about on this occasion.
Kyle's lung capacity has diminished over the past month, and he spends most days at home. Periodically, though, he is able to attend his high school senior classes and visit with friends.
He values every moment he can spend with those friends and his family, and the family of Sydney as well. The two families, each touched deeply through a little girl lost too soon, remain close.
On the field that September day, the Cardinals entertained their fans with a big win. Up in a corporate suite, two families shared precious time and celebrated life together. In 2003, Sydney Pikey gave Kyle seven years of life, of which his mother says, "These have been the best seven years we could have asked for. Kyle played racquetball. We went to the Grand Canyon--all because of little Sydney."
Time is valuable to Kyle and his family. The memories they make on a daily basis are being made in order to sustain family and friends one day when Kyle is no longer there. The Pikeys know all too well the importance of these memories also and even in their loss, have added hugs, laughs, and joy to a family they love but in many ways they wished they had never had the opportunity to meet.
Kyle's spirit inspires everyone he knows and loves. Sydney's spirit, it seems, can be seen in everything Kyle does.
Further information may be found at www.18ForeLife.com or www.missouriorgandonor.com or sydneyssanta.org.