Chelsey Campbell's brown hair was long. On the cold morning he met her, that's what Kevin Kline noticed first. During an on-location broadcast at the Texas Children's Cancer Center in 2005, the morning radio host was idle in the time between the show's 5:30 a.m. start and the 8 a.m. influx of outpatient surgery candidates. As he watched Chelsey remove her coat, kneel and interact with the facility's young patients, he was impressed by her willingness to volunteer during Christmas break.
It was then that she corrected him: "I'm not volunteering. I'm a patient."
"You don't look sick," he responded.
"I'm not. I just have cancer."
Kline, who spent the first 22 years of his life in St. Louis -- and more than that talking on the radio -- has spent the last five thinking of Chelsea. The 41-year-old thought hard about her condition and even harder about her diagnosis: "They barely gave her six months," he says. Chelsey's sixteenth birthday was June 11, 2006, and three days later, the IRS finalized the paperwork on Kline's belated gift to Chelsey: the Snowdrop Foundation.
Founded as a nonprofit organization to fund cancer research and scholarships for pediatric cancer patients, the Snowdrop Foundation was created with Chelsey's identity in mind and has yet to be separated from it.
On Tuesday, Kline's efforts with the foundation will be honored with his induction into the Energizer Keep Going Hall of Fame, dedicated to honoring individuals who serve the greater community in a way that reflects the Energizer bunny's "Keep going" spirit.
Although Kline (the nephew of the actor with the same name) nearly cried on the air when Cal Ripken Jr., the group's first inductee, called to make the announcement, he remains focused: The Energizer rabbit, though a smooth operator, is hardly a role model. Chelsey Campbell is. "We wanted to reward her for her struggle and her fight and for giving us a more positive direction in life," Kline tells Daily RFT. "That's part of why we do it now. We want to keep her alive."
Chelsey passed away December 9, 2006. Kline, a pallbearer at her funeral, buried her on the 364th day after he first made her acquaintance.
In the first year the foundation was created, the board of directors gave away three scholarships for a combined $9,000. This year, the total numbered 32 scholarships at $82,000. Even with a 900 percent increase, he says, the foundation is consistently challenged by the downturn in the economy.
In the meantime, Kline has turned to other means to raise money for pediatric cancer patients in Chelsey's situation. In recent years, this has included running -- a lot. In February 2006, Chelsey underwent a record-setting surgery to remove cancerous tumors that lasted a total of 27 hours, with one surgeon and one assistant. While she was in recovery, Kline thought of another idea: "I told her I was going to run a marathon for her. The feeling of having to cross the finish line not just for me but for her and her story and her purpose was the best feeling ever, so I've done it ever since."
Towards the latter part of 2007 and the middle of 2008, marathons became too easy for Kline, and he worried that people would no longer pay attention to Chelsey's story. A this point, he started the training process for what would eventually become a run across Texas. (He currently lives in Houston.) The final run started December 20, 2009, continued through Jan. 1, 2010 and raised $200,000 for the foundation across 470 miles.
"It's not about what it means to me, really," Kline says. The trip was filmed by a St. Louis filmmaker for a documentary, Strides Across Texas, that will be released Sept. 27. "What it means to me is that Chelsey is still very much alive, and that her legacy continues to grow. It means I'm telling her story properly."
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