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Orange County

Crowd Steps Lively So Hospital Can Keep Kids Alive

October 06, 2003|Claire Luna | Times Staff Writer

Leukemia took Kevin Seitz's life in August 2001, but the 2-year-old still touches others during his family's annual visit to Disneyland.

More than 100 of the Mission Viejo boy's family members and friends participated Sunday morning in the 13th annual Walk in the Park to benefit Children's Hospital of Orange County, where Kevin spent his final six months.

For those who knew Kevin, the event is a chance to honor his life and help other families with ailing children. As friends bearing photos taken when the boy was in the hospital walked before his mother through the Magic Castle, she started crying.

"Once you're part of that group of parents who have lost a child, you can't close your eyes and back away from it ever again," said Catherine Seitz, 34. "Without CHOC, Kevin may not have had those last six months with us. I want any child in that situation to have that chance."

Some 14,000 walkers weaved through Disneyland and California Adventure in the crisp morning air. Last year's event, which drew about 9,000 walkers, raised more than $600,000.

Most of Sunday's walkers wore the names of the children they were supporting.

Team Drake carried a wide banner festooned with turtles and tropical flowers. The Team Tara walkers donned Mickey Mouse ears with the girl's name in red puff paint.

Members of Team Dean wore white T-shirts with the boy's photocopied picture taped onto the front. When he was born four years ago and wasn't breathing, Dean Kendall was taken immediately to Children's Hospital. He stayed for two weeks as doctors repaired a collapsed lung caused by pulmonary hypertension.

Watching Dean nab cereal from his little sister, 2-year-old Megan, in their double stroller, his mother's eyes filled with tears. "Now you would never know how sick he was," said Kathy Kendall, 37, of Tustin. "We're so thankful they saved his life."

Kendall, looking at other teams, with the words "in memory of" repeated on countless posters and T-shirts, realizes anew each year how lucky her family was.

In this third year of their participation in the walk, the Kendall family raised more than $6,000. Dean just grinned shyly when asked how it feels knowing so many people had come to Disneyland to show they love him.

"He's a little embarrassed by it all," said his father, Steve, 38.

Dean looked enchanted by the Disney fantasy around him. Characters were positioned throughout the park -- Stitch waved from a Frontierland balcony, Nemo zoomed around Fisherman's Wharf, and a presumably dizzy Alice in Wonderland circled inside a cup for three hours on the park's Mad Tea Party ride.

For the groups' adults, though, it just took a glance at those around them to turn the mood somber as they thought about who had drawn them to the theme parks.

In the Seitzes' second year walking for Kevin, friends and family came from as far as Virginia and Las Vegas to show their support and raise $11,000.

During a restroom break near Main Street, Kevin's sister, Samantha, approached her mother and asked why they weren't moving along.

"We won't win if we don't keep going," the 6-year-old said. Seitz, who is six months pregnant, crouched and gently stroked her daughter's hair.

"This isn't a race," Seitz said. "It's not that kind of event. Everybody wins today."

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