A Town Celebrated Christmas Two Months Early So A Terminally Ill 12-Year-Old Won't Miss It
An entire town has celebrated Christmas two months early to honor a terminally-ill 12-year-old who may not live to see one of his favourite days of the year.
Keith Burkett suffers from a rare form of childhood cancer in his skull, shoulder, spine and liver, but earlier this year doctors had to tell his family they fear the disease could take him before the end of the year.
So to make it extra special for the boy and his parents, residents in his hometown of Stow, Ohio, came together to give him a Christmas he will never forget.
They covered their homes and cars in festive decorations, sang carols and one neighbour carried out the duties of dressing up as Santa.
Keith also got to have a ride in a fire truck and even received a medal of bravery from the town's mayor.
Keith said: "It was awesome. The fire truck was my favorite part because I've never been in one before. I got to beep the horn."
His mum Taylore Woodard, a hair stylist, said the disease has taken over her son's life and she just wanted to give him a day to remember.
She said: "Doctors had told me that they didn't know if Keith would make it to Christmas.
"He loves Christmas. His life has been taken up with cancer and medicines and I wanted my son to enjoy one last Christmas.
"So at the end of September, we made our house into a winter wonderland.
"We put lights up, candy canes, polar bears and Santas. We had a North Pole sign and put up a banner that said, 'Merry Christmas Kourageous Keith'."
But it wasn't long until neighbours joined in and hung up their own decorations.
Taylore said: "We noticed our next door neighbours put up some icicle lights and garlands and soon everyone was doing it."
In an incredible show of support for Keith and his family, Brandy Spreizer, who runs a local lemonade stand, arranged for more than 50 drivers to decorate their cars in honour of the brave young boy.
Hundreds then gathered at Stow-Munroe Falls High School while Christmas music played as they waited for Keith to arrive in the fire truck.
Stow Councillor John Pribonic then declared October 21 was to be Keith Burkett Day.
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As Keith rode home, the high school choir sang Christmas carols including Silent Night, Jingle Bells, and Santa Clause is Coming To Town.
Taylore, 32, said: "Everyone was dressed up and embraced the Christmas theme. Both Santa Claus and the Grinch were there.
"Keith was smiling ear to ear. I haven't seen him smile like that in such a long time."
Keith's heartbreaking journey began in 2010, when his mum rushed him to hospital on Christmas Eve, after he became ill. He was just five-years-old.
She said: "He was pale and he didn't want to eat or open presents
"Doctors took X-Rays and found that there was fluid pushing on his heart and his heart rate was down.
"On Christmas Day, he had surgery to get the fluid out and they also removed the left lower lobe of his lung because it looked like hamburger meat."
Two years later he was diagnosed with undifferentiated soft tissue sarcoma and doctors removed cancer-ridden parts of his body in grueling surgery.
And despite undergoing four courses of radiation and chemotherapy, the cancer returned each time.
In May this year, doctors gave Keith and his parents the news that it had spread to the skull, left shoulder, lower part of his spine, his pelvis and liver.
Taylore, who is also mum to Adriana, seven, and Jax, six, said: "Doctors told me that he wouldn't make it past Christmas."
Two months ago, he was transferred to a hospice and Taylore gave up her job to spend as much time as she could with her dying son.
She said: "He was my first born. It's hard to watch your son die and know that you're not going to have another Christmas with him. No mother should outlive her child.
"He's scared of dying. He doesn't know what is going to happen when he dies. He said to me: 'Mom, what if I don't know how to go to the light?'
"It's one of the hardest things anyone can watch.
"He's such a kind boy. It doesn't seem fair. I'm so glad that we were able to give him a proper Christmas."