POINT PLEASANT — Winter Storm Jonas brought headaches to many, but for one local family, the 11.5-inches of snow provided some welcome relief during a difficult start to the New Year.
Last weekend, as people in Mason County were snowed in and scrolling their newsfeed on Facebook, video after video showed otherwise sensible human beings in clothes more suited to summer, diving into snowbanks in frigid temperatures to create snow angels specifically for one little boy.
Up until a little over two weeks ago, Holdyn Keefer, 4, was living a normal life with his two older brothers and parents in Point Pleasant. Around Jan. 10, Holdyn’s mom Sarah said he wasn’t feeling well, complaining of his hands and feet hurting, he was also incredibly thirsty. Holdyn’s dad, Travis, said at one point, his son told him: “I don’t have muscles in my hands” – his way of explaining being weak.
Sarah and Travis decided to take Holdyn to see a doctor, convinced they’d be told he had a virus or it was “growing pains,” or at worse, they’d be told they were overreacting. The family arrived at St. Mary’s Medical Center around 5 p.m., by 8 pm. they were being moved to Cabell Huntington Hospital and at 10 p.m., were talking to an oncologist.
“Our world was crashing in when they told us,” Travis said about the escalating chain of events which included hearing a Leukemia diagnosis which is still sinking in.
“It was overwhelming,” Sarah said. “You never think it’s going to happen to you.”
Sarah said that first night at Cabell Huntington Hospital, she felt like all of Mason County didn’t sleep either due to the amount of prayer and support the family was receiving from afar. She and Travis said their church family at New Hope Church in Point Pleasant, along with churches from across Mason and Gallia counties have reached out as well. Also during their stay at Cabell Huntington Hospital, the Keefer’s met Chayston Handley from Leon who is also battling cancer and was in the hospital – the two families are now planning a dinner together. Friends and family also visited with the Keefer’s while Holdyn spent a total of 11 nights in Cabell Huntington Hospital, beginning a course of treatment which is still being determined but is likely to go on 3.5 years.
Travis said the visits and normalcy really helped, adding when it gets quiet is when you feel like crying.
“Everyday something new happens (in terms of support) and it blows us away,” Sarah said.
The most recent support came in a “cool” form…literally. A snow angel challenge was started by Angela Yates of Point Pleasant, a friend of the Keefer family. Yates challenged others to dress in summer clothes, go out into the cold and lay down in the snow and create their snow angels, all the while donating $10 to the family for completing the challenge. Those who wanted to support the family but just couldn’t bring themselves to get that cold, could donate $20. After a challenge was completed on video, another person or persons were nominated to take it on next and so the chain of videos and donations grew and grew, especially over the last weekend. The videos included the hashtag #teamholdyn on Facebook and, of course, tags of those completing the challenges and with each challenge, awareness grew, reaching as far as Texas…so far. Who knows how many miles the challenge will travel if, and when, it snows again.
Travis and Sarah said the videos definitely brought smiles to their household last weekend, including to Holdyn who saw the videos as well and heard the well wishes. Travis said he and Sarah have been inundated with friend requests on Facebook from people who just want to support Holdyn’s recovery and stay posted about his condition. Again, all of the support has been overwhelming but welcome by the family who is redefining their normal right now.
In addition, there have been special fundraising events planned, like a benefit chili dinner from noon to 3 p.m., this Sunday at Sacred Heart Church in Point Pleasant; a wrestling event hosted by West Liberty titled the “Team Holdyn Match” on Feb. 12, his fifth birthday; and an upcoming kickball tournament on March 26. Local woman Dee Weaver has helped create t-shirts for sale as a show of support and a fundraiser for Holdyn. The t-shirts, which say “Team Holdyn” on the front with wrestling figures, also quote Philippians 4:13 on the back – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Those who would like a shirt can contact Weaver on Facebook or text or call her at 304-674-5575.
Holdyn’s older brothers Dylan, 9 and Landyn, 7, have also tried to be there for their little brother, paying him more attention and even giving him their latest wrestling trophies, which is a gesture Dylan says he will continue as long as he wins. The boys both said they’d do anything for Holdyn and that included getting tested for possible bone marrow matches and the dreaded flu shots.
Travis and Sarah say for the first week after Holdyn’s diagnosis, they couldn’t speak. People would call and the parents would have to text their replies due to being overcome with emotion. Having had a little more time to process the news, the Keefer’s are now welcoming visitors to their home on a daily basis, which they say helps them cope with what’s going on.
“This is just going to be a part of our lives for a little while,” Sarah said about this surreal reality which has landed in her living room – a living room which is part of a home the family only recently purchased.
Due to Holdyn’s illness, Sarah, who was an educator at Early Education Station, will stay at home to care for her son while Travis works at Constellium in Ravenswood. Sarah, a graduate of Gallia Academy and Travis, a graduate of River Valley, are doing their best to deal with their son’s illness while life, and bills, and the needs of their family, go on.
Still, Travis has an unwavering faith that, as he put it, “the Lord will provide for everything” and both parents have said this crisis has brought them closer to God and their faith – in fact, they say, “faith in the Lord” is what is getting them through.
Something Travis says he regrets is working overtime and missing moments with his boys. He said one day he had a perfectly healthy son and the next he didn’t. He explained, the situation has made him realize the need to live day by day and to live and appreciate those days like they are his last.
The Keefer’s thanked the community for their support and said what they need most now is simply, prayer. Sarah explained she can feel the outpouring of that prayer and when she and her husband should’ve felt most alone during those nights at Cabell Huntington, they didn’t.
“We could literally feel people loving us,” she said.
As for what’s next, the Keefer’s said “today” and “today is a good day.”
To participate in the snow angel challenge, if snow arrives again, search #teamholdyn on Facebook for examples and instructions.
Reach Beth Sergent at [email protected] or on Twitter @BSergentWrites.