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Tuesday September 18, 2018

smiles for ailing lP students

Tuesday, September 05, 2017 16:20 PM
Written by Stan Maddux
Category: Local News

Two LaPorte grade school students battling major illness had smiles on their faces riding in a fire truck with a super hero type character.

They were also given hugs, stuffed animals and signed their names with those already inscribed by hundreds of others going through difficulties.

Lindsey Miller said the visit seemed to do her son, Michael, some good.

''He's got a big smile on his face,'' she said.

Michael, whose leukemia is in remission, and Ekaterina Hatzikostantis fighting brain cancer are students at Crichfield Elementary School,

Pink Heals, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is showing love and encouragement to children and adults going through a crisis, pulled into the school parking lot before 10 a.m. in a pink fire truck for a half hour visit.

Another fire engine with faces of children and words of inspiration on it along with a pink police cruiser were part of the traveling fleet.

Dave Graybill, a pitcher on the 1984 U.S,A Olympic baseball team, founded the organization in 2007.

After an arm injury cut short his professional career, the 54-year old Graybill became a firefighter in the Phoenix, Arizona area then after retiring started the group now with branches in 66 locations in 27 states and three other countries.

Graybill said the mission is to provide emotional support for people who might feel forgotten once their needs at the early stages of a crisis are met and raising interest in forming local chapters of the humanitarian group.

''Charities are shrinking. We're growing,'' said Graybill.

The group is in the middle of a yearly six month tour Graybill finances with his own personal funds and from the sale of Pink Heals t-shirts and monetary donations.

Graybill said what he does is an extension of his life as a firefighter except the focus is not at the

scene of an working fire or sudden medical emergency.

It's care during a lingering crisis from an emotional standpoint.

''I'm a poor middle class guy with a huge heart that has the energy of 500 that wants to change

the world not for myself but for others. It's really that simple,'' said Graybill.

Michael, a 2nd grader, and Ekaterina, who's in the 4th grade, were also greeted by ''Gunner,'' who

helped them on and off the fire truck and went along for the ride.

The children also signed their names among the hundreds of other signatures on both sides of the truck.

John Sullivan, a longtime LaPorte firefighter, fought back tears watching the interaction with the children.

His now 18-year old son, Ryan, is a cancer survivor.

''It's nice for them to do that. The kids appreciate it,'' said Sullivan.

Pink Heals next visited cancer patients at Michiana Hematology and Oncology near Westville then returned to LaPorte to visit children at other schools.
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