PINNACLE — It wasn’t quite Christmas Eve, but Santa’s elves were busy Friday morning loading up a home in Pinnacle for a family whose story touched many hearts.
For several years now, a Piedmont radio station, WKZL 107.5 FM, has organized a special charity drive for the holidays it calls “Breaking and Entering Christmas.” A worthy family is selected from the Triad area, then the station accepts donations for that family.
Some donations are in the form of presents like toys, gift certificates and coupons for free services. Others donate cash that the radio station uses to buy gifts.
This year’s recipient is still reeling from the recent loss of its patriarch.
Kevin Draughon, 33, died on the Monday before Thanksgiving, a year to the day that he first sought medical treatment for what he thought might be a stomach bug.
There was a bowel perforation, said wife Teara, a hole in the intestine that let waste get into the body cavity. Kevin was seriously ill and needed surgery.
Then came the question of how this hole happened, and scores of tests came back with inconclusive results. At one point, doctors thought it was Crohn’s disease because Kevin had that in his family history, Teara said. It was the start of October when he became very ill again. This time the tests came back with the worst news: late-stage colon cancer.
By the time the tests revealed the cancer, the disease had spread through the lymph system. Only a month later Kevin entered a hospice home. Teara said she only saw her two sons, ages 3 and 1, for about four hours over the next two weeks because she didn’t want them to see their dad at the very end.
When her oldest had questions, Teara said that there are some sicknesses that can be healed by doctors. But sometimes cancer is so bad that only Jesus can heal it, and He had to take his dad to heaven to make him well.
On his own, the 3-year-old decided to add a line to his nightly prayer: “… and thank you for making my daddy all better.”
If the grief alone wasn’t enough, the family was left with the reality of losing half its workforce as Kevin had been a respiratory therapist at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
Teara, in addition to being a nurse, has been taking classes, too, and is on pace to earn her master’s degree in nursing in less than five months.
Her classmates showed their support by starting a fund drive on www.gofundme.com. As of Friday, the account had earned $4,105 of the $5,000 goal to help with medical expenses. The organizer, Ellie Mears Ward, said that she is a distance learner, taking online courses from Portsmouth, Virginia.
“As distance students, we are all too far away to help this sweet young family in person,” said Ward. “One thing we can do is try to relieve some of the pressure of medical bills.”
Teara said she has kept herself very busy with work, school and the boys to help cope with the loss.
Overcoming loss has been an important factor in her work in the NICU, or neonatal intensive care unit. “Sometimes new hires don’t make it through their first week,” she said, because it can be hard working with newborns who may not survive.
When she was 10 years old, Teara had a cousin who was born very prematurely. She was impressed with the work the hospital did with the infant and knew right then that this is what she wanted to do with her life.
It was during her time at Baptist Hospital when she met Kevin. The young man had spent a few years in Mount Airy at Northern Hospital of Surry County before moving to the Winston-Salem center.
What did Kevin like to do? After fishing, hunting and riding his motorcycle, Kevin liked to make people laugh, she said.
An anonymous coworker nominated Kevin’s family for the radio station charity.
“I worked with Kevin at Baptist Hospital. We would talk every day and worked side by side as registered respiratory therapists in a very hectic work environment,” the letter reads.
“Kevin was a person who would have your back in a critical situation while trying to save others’ loved ones. … Some days we’d share tears of joy together, but most importantly, Kevin was always so supportive and kind when we shared tears of sadness over the loss of someone’s family member.”
The on-air personalities of the Jared and Katie morning show said this was the most heart-wrenching nomination they’ve had. Tissue boxes were passed about as freely as the numerous presents that arrived in the early morning hours.
While Teara and the boys were eating breakfast in a restaurant, a family member let the radio station staff enter the house. Dozens of gifts overflowed the tree skirt and even spilled over into the kitchen area.
Teara was in disbelief at the charity shown.
“It’s hard to accept,” she said. “I’m someone who doesn’t like to ask for help. I try to suck it up and do things myself, and I always have.”
It was a bittersweet morning as she loved the thrill on her boys’ faces as they tore open wrapping paper, but she also realized that the only reason this great thing was happening is because something terrible happened first. She wished that Kevin could have been with her to see those smiling faces.
There is no way to name everyone individually for this amazing honor, she said, but she does want to give her thanks to all who had a hand in this — from Kevin’s coworker who nominated the family, to the people who provided donations, the folks who did the shopping and the volunteers who brought the goods to her house.
Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692.