Posted on Sun, Jan. 18, 2004

Memorial for girl felled by illness


By Linda Goldston

Mercury News

Her friend Alexandra ``Lexie'' Gulesserian will miss their Disney trivia games and the KL Sweethearts, their two-girl ``band.''

Her sister, Kelly, will miss their fights; her mother, Kerry, her hugs ``and hearing her call me Mama.'' Her father, Brad, will miss caring for her and watching his younger daughter fight for another day.

The short life of Kaitlyn Sierra Langstaff was recalled with songs, laughter and tears Saturday as more than 400 people packed Westgate Community Bible Church for a memorial for the 9-year-old Saratoga girl whose story had been chronicled in the Mercury News.

Kaitlyn died at home Dec. 17 after fighting for nearly two years to overcome the debilitating effects of a disease that her family says in a lawsuit was caused by a reaction to Children's Motrin.

The disease -- a severe form of Stevens Johnson syndrome -- left her unable to see, eat or speak without a special device. But it did not stop her from going back to school on a portable ventilator whenever she was able or spending time with her friends.

``She had a big impact in that short time, and I truly believe the world is a better place because she was here,'' her father told the crowd. ``She didn't give up. Her body just gave out.''

Kaitlyn's fight to resume her life after months of painful treatments in several hospitals had made her a celebrity after her story was published in the Mercury News.

She got to meet the Dixie Chicks and a winner of the ``Survivor'' TV show, and be on the ice in her wheelchair with Kristi Yamaguchi, national ice skating champion. A poem she wrote was set to music and was performed at a benefit concert in her honor at Santana Row last spring. Hundreds of people, young and old, sent letters about Kaitlyn's courage.

``When Brad and I told her that she might die from this disease, she said, `I'll be OK,' '' her mother said, adding that she asked Kaitlyn to send her a rainbow if that happened ``to let me know she's OK.''

After her funeral Dec. 23, a stormy rainy day, ``as we pulled into the cemetery, there was a huge rainbow over her grave, and many of you here saw it,'' her mother said.

A slide show featured the highlights of Kaitlyn's life -- her yearly birthday cake, her costumes for Halloween, her class photos at Forest Hill Elementary School in San Jose. She would have turned 10 on Feb. 25, and her family plans to hold a party in her memory that day.

``We will all miss her,'' Brad Langstaff said. ``But whenever you see a rainbow or a butterfly or even children playing, she'll be there.''

Her young friends lined up at a microphone in front of the church to share their memories of Kaitlyn.

``I want to share a memory from our soccer team'' before Kaitlyn got sick, said Arianna Gomez. ``At one of our first practices, I asked Kaitlyn how she liked soccer. She said it was really hard and she didn't like it that much because we had to run sprints.''

Later in the season, Arianna asked Kaitlyn again how she liked soccer. This time ``she said she loved it because she could beat a lot of people in sprints.''

After the memorial service, dozens of colored balloons were released to symbolize the release of grief and ``to create a rainbow in the sky for Kaitlyn,'' her mother said.

The program for the service included one of Kaitlyn's poem. The last verse states:

``I am the same inside, just like a normal kid. And I want to let everybody know, this is what I did.''