Oldham County mom mends broken hearts making memory blankets for parents of deceased children | News
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Kyler Buckner wanted to be a police officer. So one day in February 2020, Jeffersontown police made him chief for a day.
An officer ran to his door and said, “Kyler, we need your help,” and waved him to the station where the mayor swore to him with a proclamation. He received a police shirt, hat and badge, toured the station and even went to work on a fake crime scene with his older brother by his side playing the role of assistant chief.
“Thank you,” Kyler said in a low voice, joy shining from his bright blue eyes.
Undoubtedly, this was a good day for an 8-year-old boy who had very little left.
Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma
Kyler suffered from Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), a rare pediatric cancer in which a tumor spins over the brain stem, rendering it unusable. It’s the same disease that killed Neil Armstrong’s daughter, Karen, in 1962, and little to no progress has been made in the way it’s treated. Experts said that about 300 children a year are diagnosed with DIPG, and the result is always the same, with an average life expectancy of less than a year after diagnosis.
Kyler died in March 2020. He made it 16 months.
A few weeks before Mother’s Day, Kyler’s mom packed just a few of his things, recalling the way doctors explained about the battle Kyler should face.
“It’s like a ‘go make memories’ kind of a disease, because there is no cure,” said Kristen Mackin.
She held tight to the yellow hospital socks and remembered that Kyler loved free stuff from the hospital. She picked up a bright pink hospital coat with the word brave on it and put it in the box and police shirt her son had been given a year earlier on one of the memories of making days when he was Jeffersontown’s police chief.
There were also harder memories, such as chemotherapy and radiation and trips to California for experimental treatments and two medical studies.
“With DIPG, to me, it feels like I’ve lost him twice,” said Mackin. “When we got to progression, he couldn’t stand or walk on his own. He couldn’t eat. His speech disappeared. “
But most of all she remembers the ending.
“I held him in my arms as he took his last breath,” Mackin said, tears running down her cheeks. ‘I gave him a bath because that’s exactly what a mother would do. I just love my child very much and I just miss him very much. He was so funny and so witty, and I miss his jokes and his follies. I miss his kindness and his care. He was the soul of all of us, and it’s just hard. “
Tara Coombs understands the plight and pain of families affected by childhood cancer. Her son, Owen, lost a kidney to Wilms tumor at the age of 3, but he survived.
“We were hit very hard financially and mentally very hard,” said Coombs. “It takes a heavy toll on families.”
Those families stay with Coomb’s thoughts as she sometimes works 12 hours a day sewing and cutting fabrics in her basement.
She is not a designer or a seamstress or a tailor. Coombs is a mom on a mission to heal broken hearts. She uses old clothes, sheets and toys to make special quilts. Each square connects a memory of a family buried in grief.
“The most important thing you get on a shirt is the stains,” Coombs said, starting to pull things out of a box Mackin gave her to make Kyler’s blanket. “They’re not going to make those spots anymore.”
Coombs said each quilt takes about 16 hours. She began her effort to connect with families on TikTok in January, and already has 350,000 followers and 800 people on a waiting list to have a blanket made.
She works endlessly from the basement of her Oldham County home, never asking a dime.
“These are their children’s clothes, and these kids are gone,” Coombs said. ‘They will no longer produce memories. I just feel like I want to provide some kind of comfort to the parents, and I really enjoy doing it. “
Coombs said every stitch has a purpose and every cut has meaning, in the hope that her overall campaign will focus more on funding for childhood cancer research.
“It only receives 4% of the research funding. Four percent. “That’s not enough,” she said. “My life goal is to get more child funding for cancer. That’s it, all my life.”
Coombs launched a petition to aid the effort with the aim of getting it to the president’s office. That takes some time and work beyond her control, but in the meantime, she can continue to work for families like Kyler’s.
Coombs returned Mackin four memory blankets on Mother’s Day weekend: one for her and Kyler’s dad and both of his siblings.
Mackin sobbed as she touched each square and saw the yellow socks, pink dress, and police shirt sewn into rags.
Tara Coombs gives Kristen Mackin the blanket in honor of her late son, Kyler.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you very much. I love it, ”said Mackin. “It’s like all these shirts are special moments for Kyler.”
The two mothers hugged each other, both in tears. Perhaps the memories that matter most are the ones that we think love to laugh and lose. These are the memories sewn into the fabric of our soul.
CLICK HERE to request a memorial blanket for a deceased child and information about sponsoring Coombs with materials or monetary donations.
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