By SHERI GASSAWAY
Sometimes the smallest gesture can make the biggest difference. That’s what Greg Combs and Travis Barnes learned while working on the campus renewal project at Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
In July, Combs and Barnes – both members of Ironworkers Local 396 – noticed a little girl and her mom waving at them through a ninth-floor window at the children’s hospital.
“We waved back and forth for a couple weeks, and then we got up pretty close (to the window) and could actually see her,” said Barnes, Local 396 vice president. “Greg said, ‘Let’s write something and send it up.’”
The message, which was spray-painted on a construction beam, read: “Get well soon.” As it turns out, those three little words have led to a bond between the iron workers and the toddler and her family that will last for years to come.
“It’s awesome that something so small made their day,” Combs said. “It really puts things in perspective.”
VERY SICK GIRL
At the time 2-year-old Vivian Keith was undergoing chemotherapy for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a type of rapidly progressing cancer that affects the white blood cells. Vivian’s aggressive treatment required her to be in isolation much of the time and the only connection she had to the outside world was through her window.
“We were in the hospital for 22 days straight,” said Ginger Keith, Vivian’s mom. “It was really difficult, but watching them (the construction crew) helped move things along and take our minds off of what was going on. They had no idea how much they were helping us.”
When Vivian was well enough to have visitors, Combs and Barnes were able to meet her and her parents at the hospital. They exchanged hugs and gifts and even a few tears.
“They are the most kind, big-hearted people you could ever meet and for them to open their hearts to Vivian when they didn’t even know her is just unbelievable,” Keith said.
Since then, the iron workers and the family have kept in touch and have become close friends.
“Greg and I have worked together for six years, and we never dreamed something like this would happen,” Barnes said. “She’s just a little sweetheart, and she doesn’t even know what’s going on.”
Combs and Barnes recently held a collection drive at the job site to help offset costs for Vivian’s ongoing medical expenses. They presented the $1,850 donation to the family at a recent fundraising event held at Milo’s Bocce Garden, 5201 Wilson Ave. in St. Louis.
See previous story: Iron Workers, Operating Engineers donate $1,850 to help toddler with leukemia
About 40 Ironworkers, along with members from IUOE Local 513 who are also working at the job site, attended the fundraiser. More than $7,000 was raised during the event.
“They’ve formed a special bond with the little girl,” said Tom McNeil, Local 396 business manager. “It gives them a good feeling to be able to help her out while she is going through treatment.”
In November, Vivian will enter the maintenance form of treatment, which will last 18 months. The family has set up a trust fund to help with costs. Once Vivian’s medical expenses are met, the remainder will be donated to Friends of Kids with Cancer and St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
To donate to the fund, make checks payable to Vivian Keith, Irr. Trust and mail them to Commerce Bank, 956 Jeffco Blvd., Arnold, MO 63010.